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Renewing Our Synagogue

March 19, 2013

Last Thursday (14th March) we held an all members meeting to discuss the latest plans for the refurbishment of our Sanctuary.  This was the first, of what we hope will be regular updates for all members as plans for the refurbishment start to be finalised.  Further updates are planned when we have our AGM in May and again at around the time of the High Holy Days.

This meeting was the first chance for members to start to influence specific aspects of the designs such as kitchens, choir stalls, etc.  The meeting included this presentation showing new images provided by our architects.  As you can see, progress has been made since we launched the project at an all members meeting last year and we have:

  • Obtained outline planning permission from the London Borough of Redbridge – we did announce our attention of doing so at the last all members meeting

  • Explored other options – specifically sharing premises with Sukkat Shalom or the RJCC (Sinclair House) but both options are no longer seen as feasible

  • Refined our thinking about the interior and exterior designs

  • Started to approach people to support the project

One of the biggest changes being proposed is to abandon the proposed glass facade (slides 3/4) in favour of a partial brick wall facade (slide 5), although the glass roof is being retained (as shown in slide 6).  This provides more security and privacy, while creating a glass-roofed corridor outside of the Sanctuary (also shown in slide 6).  This change alters the exterior of the building, so it will require a variation to the outline planning permission.  However, we believe this should be possible because it provides enhanced security and privacy.

The entrance to the new hallway will be more centrally located (as shown in slide 5) thereby not opening immediately in front of the entrance to the Sanctuary.  This will help to reduce noise from outside the Sanctuary, reduces congestion by the entrance, and makes it possible to create some storage space at the end of the hallway – beyond the Sanctuary entrance.

Slide 6 shows the layout of the ground floor, in this image the organ and choir are located in, what is the now, the annexe area (top left corner in the image).  Another radical change, shown in slides 6/7, is the potential installation of a platform lift in the existing foyer area – but if this is installed we will loose the storage cupboard on the first floor, affectionally known as ‘Moishe The Cupboard’ by Cheder staff and pupils, which is one of the reasons why are we need to think about additional storage space.

Slide 8 is another view of the foyer area – this one has no doors in the image (although there will be doors in the finished foyer) so as to present views into the Sanctuary and the kitchen.  A suggested layout of the kitchen is also shown (slide 9) although the final layout and design will be decided later with more input from its regular users.

Slides 10 to 13 look at changes to the Sanctuary from different angles – although there is no new images of the Bimah itself (slide 11).  No decisions has been made about the size of the windows – larger windows provide more natural light but that also means more noise or distractions from the hallway and may limit flexibility in usage e.g. if they have to be blacked-out for film shows etc.

The final slide is a repeat of slide 6 – the ground floor layout.  This slide illustrates the the opportunity we have to be flexible about number of toilets (shown as four small rooms to the right of the ground floor).  We could have one fully accessible toilet plus three other toilets – or one fully accessible toilet plus two toilet cubicles and a storage cupboard.

As was to be expected there was a lot discussion about the height of the ceiling (it looks higher in the images mainly because the images are designed to layout etc not dimensions), sound proofing and seating arrangements.  We have been advised that the problem we have with noise is what the experts call interstitial noise i.e. noise in the spaces between ground floor ceiling and first floor flooring!  We have also been told that it will be possible to substantially insulate and reduce this noise when the refurbishment takes place.  There are updated regulations with regard to seating and various options will be looked at in more detail.  However, if we use chairs of similar size to the ones we currently use, the capacity of the Sanctuary is expected to be about 130 people.  When we look at seating in more detail, we will also look at options for including storage ledges on the backs of the chairs for prayer books etc.  We will also look at how to meet the current regulations while still allowing for flexible seating options so that we can continue to use the Sanctuary space as flexibly as possible.

In these images – the choir and organ have been sited in what it is now the annexe area.  However, the refurbishment opens up this space, therefore the choir will have a full unrestricted view of the sanctuary and they will be in eyesight of the service leader on the Bimah.

Members, at the meeting, favoured the idea of a bricked facade creating a hallway rather than a glass wall conservatory exterior to the front of the building.  There were some concerns about having a glass roof to the hallway (to create light) as it requires cleaning in the winter and generates heat in the summer, these questions will be raised with the architect.  A question was also raised about the cost implications of the changes – although these have not been fully worked through they are not thought to be substantially different.  Members did agree that the proposed changes and the creation of the hallway helped to create a clean space for the Sanctuary and helped to separate the Sanctuary from the entrance space – especially if the added security and storage space removed the need to keep things in the Sanctuary.

It was noted that there was still no quiet room on the ground floor (e.g. for a bride to wait before a wedding) other than the lobby area or upstairs.

The possibility of extending the sanctuary outwards at the front of the building was also raised – but this is thought to be structurally difficult and would not provide any additional space as it will still be necessary to create a hallway.

Efforts will now be stepped up on raising funds to pay for the changes; on agreeing the variations to the outline planning permission; and, as promised, we hope to provide a further update at the AGM.

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