The circle of time
This congregation got a building on time that meets programming needs and saved enough through value engineering to include sacred art
F or nearly 60 years, Congregation B’nai Israel, which is itself 142 years old, held services in one of the oldest temples in the Toledo area, built in 1955 in the Old Orchard neighborhood. But the building did not support the programming needs, as each room served only one purpose, and it was not as energy-efficient nor as accessible as modern needs demand. So the building was sold and a new one planned and built.
The congregation benefited by having architect Abraham Musher-Eizenman, of M360 Architects, Perrysburg, as a member. He and Hobbs + Black, of Ann Arbor, MI, the architect of record, designed a smaller, 19,700-sf synagogue, half the size of the former one, but one which had added efficiencies thanks to its flexible use of space. “This project was definitely challenging in its programming needs,” says Musher-Eizenman. “And I knew it had to work, as I had to face my fellow congregants if it didn’t,” he laughs. “We wanted a place both traditional and modern, intimate yet expandable, an inspiring place to worship and a comfortable, functional place to gather.” The work was done with Bostleman Corp. as general contractor, with Lisa Babich as project manager.
Building the dome
B’nai Israel is centered around a circular 200-seat sanctuary with clerestory and a vaulted ceiling surrounding a skylight. The round room was inspired by the cyclical nature of Judaism, says Musher-Eisenman, and six stained glass windows symbolize the major Jewish holidays. The vaulted ceiling covers the congregation like a kippah, the Jewish skullcap, symbolizing the protection of the Deity. To support the dome, 16 steel columns wrapped in masonry stand exactly 22 ˝ degrees apart, holding a 5,000 lb. compression ring that keeps it all together. A monument was set at the center point of the sanctuary before starting the footers, says project superintendent Steve Haas, and a digital transit was used to keep all of the columns in place and straight. “It has to be placed just right,” adds Babich.
The “construction in the round” began in the middle of the construction season, with innovative sequencing of both load-bearing block and steel supports. Planning and scheduling maximized the efforts of masons, iron workers and cranes. Adding to the problem was the placement of the 16 pre-stained and laminated beams in the framing of the dome; they had to be under roof as quickly as possible, a scheduling challenge. A shoring scaffold was figured to hold ring, beams, roof, materials and men safely.
And the masons were challenged by the radius work, with 12 radius measurements in all when figuring the different layers, all created with flat brick. The masons also set bearing plate at 13 different roofing elevations, a special challenge in the porch areas. Plus, four flat “season” windows had to be set with three radius lines to coordinate through. Dave Dixon, of S.A. Storer & Sons, the masonry contractor, says he counted on Bostleman to get the right answers in the complex job.
All mechanicals had to be in the floor; an underground mechanical duct runs through the center of the sanctuary, but its hollow 36 in diameter will not hold a great deal of weight. A two-pour concrete run is located below the compression ring and near the central monument. The channel began to float after being poured and had to be strapped down.
Fire suppression is located overhead in 6 in of space available for the piping runs, high R insulation and drywall. Water lines for the sprinkler could not be run up one of the 16 columns and had to be routed through the next door social hall and between the clerestory windows.
The center of it all
Inside the sanctuary, an Ark, with bronzed doors, holds the 13 scrolls of the Torah, and walls of Jerusalem stone wrap around from it, imprinted with the couplets of Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season,” in Hebrew. Fitting it precisely was a tour de force. Filigree metalwork above the Ark doors and etched glass are also decorative elements, and wood gives a warm feeling and echoes the synagogues of eastern Europe, while demonstrating the highest level of carpentry and masonry craftsmanship.
A circular bimah, or raised platform, in the center can be used in place for worship in the round or moved to “dock” with a bimah on the eastern wall for larger worship services. Building the central bimah was also tricky: it has an adjustable height, accessibility ramps and two alternative seating configurations. Modesty walls separate bimah from the congregation, with one set of walls straight, one curved, and they must be secure when “docked” in either the central or eastern location. After three different attempts, Bostleman arrived at a system of anchor bolts, needing only a socket wrench to control. Bronze artwork panels arrived in a certain radius; the plans were changed to reflect this.
The “docked” bimah is used when the sanctuary is open to the adjoining social hall, allowing seating for 400 more congregants during High Holy Days. Rolling walls separate the two, with each of 10 panels weighing 450 lbs, and structural steel reinforcements to carry the weight. The walls hang from structural steel rods, and track and floor are perfectly level so the rigid walls will track. The weight of the entire system is accommodated in its storage area. The social hall also serves as classroom space and is divisible into three rooms using partitions.
As part of the ADA upgrade, the sanctuary and social hall each have their own loop system with a common audio source. The chapel is also looped and has a separate mike for its audio source. The burial grade loop cable is permanently installed in the concrete for the lifetime of the building at 15 ft. intervals to give an even audio signal across the entire listening area, meaning that every seat is good as every other seat. Audio Loop Solutions provides “a unique, effective product that architects and general contractors can offer their clients in response to the needs of hearing-impaired individuals. This innovative solution works directly with telecoil-equipped hearing aids to provide speech intelligibility in many applications,” says the firm.
A multi-purpose room is also available, and this can also be subdivided into three. It is lined with shelves that house 6,000 books and supply cabinets. It can become boardroom, lounge or library, as well as classrooms, through the use of recessed curtains. This room is draped with acoustic baffles that create a tentlike feeling, a reminder of the deserts in which the Hebrews wandered. Getting the baffles to clear the sprinkler heads took a great deal of coordination, says Babich.
In addition, there is a smaller 60-seat chapel, with room for another 2,000 books and a telecoil system. An etched window shows the skyline of Jerusalem, completing a mosaic stone scene, but it let in unwelcome light from the parking lot. The vendor suggested ideas for frosted films.
The social hall’s commercial-grade kosher kitchen, which subdivides into meat and dairy sides, is as big as the original kitchen; it can be shared with four other institutions on the campus, to serve as a revenue generator.
Spirituality & tradition
But this building is not all about efficiency. It is also about beauty in service of the synagogue’s mission, with a quarter of a million dollars used in artwork, some of it structural. In addition to the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, other windows display the Ten Commandments and the Jerusalem skyline. Carved stone tiles and wood acoustic panels complement the six stained glass windows. The chapel features mosaic Ark doors and replicas of the Ten Commandments.
Another feature representing the spiritual life of this community is the LCD yahrzeit monitor set outside the sanctuary to commemorate the death dates of loved ones on their anniversaries. A member of the congregation created the software that ties to the synagogue’s database, and color adjustment allows it to coordinate with ceremonial needs. It replaces an older technology, metal plaques with lights. Soon, the LCD screen may be touched to reveal genealogical information about the deceased.
Plus, an eternal light from the original 1888 synagogue was retrofitted for above the Ark from an electric light to a real gas-fed flame. This necessitated a great deal of research and many discussions with code officials to arrive at a variance, but the actual gas light is believed to be a first in Ohio.
Those entering in the mornings see sunlight pass through a black enameled Star of David window built into the brick entrance tower to cast that shape on the entry wall. The block pieces that surround it were angled into a pie shape from solid units by masonry contractor S.A. Storer & Sons, using a 36 in template and precise calculation. It took two bricklayers a week to complete, says Storer’s Dixon, but the shadow is another reminder of the cycle of the year.
Cornerstones from the 1888 and 1955 buildings were also used. When the stone was deemed to big to fit its intended space, Storer resized the stone.
VE expands art budget
Though Bostleman worked as a general contractor, it added pre-construction management and construction management expertise. Many firms bid on this work, but some were prohibitive given the congregation’s budget. Bostleman found subs and introduced value engineering to fit the budget, working closely with the architects. “Value engineering is always difficult from an architectural standpoint,” says Kristen Schleick, of Hobbs + Black. “Bostleman pulled a lot of ideas together. We cut in places people do not notice, using at least 75% of their ideas.”
“Throughout the entire value engineering process, Bostleman didn’t take out any of the building’s programs, its uses and needs,” says Babich. “During construction, we worked hard to provide complete coordination, from architect and artist to finishing crews.” Bostleman used its Project Village software and website to collaborate with some project partners and keep the project coordinated, as it does on all its projects.
Value engineering allowed the congregation to have the artwork it wanted from Ascalon Studios of Berlin, NJ, and still come in under budget. “This has been a project of great joy to us,” says David Ascalon. Being used to working with owners, he dreaded working with a contractor. “But everything was coordinated so well that it was all installed perfectly.’
The team was easily able to meet the scheduling needs of B’nai Israel, completing the job six months early. And even throughout the construction, donors toured the site, checking on progress. It was selected as a Build Ohio winner for new construction under $10 million. BXM
Owner: B’nai Israel Congregation
Architect: Abraham Musher-Eizenman,
M360 Architects, Hobbs + Black Associates Inc.
Cost: $4.1 million
Size: 19,700 sf
Timeline: began March 2006,
opened January 2007
LKL Engineering, structural engineers
JDRM Engineering, electrical engineers
Accel Fire Protection, fire protection
Ascalon Studios, artwork designer
Audio Loop Solutions, audio loop system
B. William Bucher Inc, painting, wall covering
BVSM, metal panels
Bauer Lawn Maintenance, landscaping
Dimech Services, plumbing
Ground Level Inc., site work, planning
Meridieth Construction, concrete
OCP Contractors, painting, flooring
Pollock Plastering, EIFS
Romanoff Electric Co., electrical
S.A. Storer & Sons, masonry
Sauder Manufacturing, worship seating
Sawyer Steel, steel erection
Stenco Construction Co., metal studs, drywall,
Tanner Supply, frames, doors, hardware
Toledo Mirror and Glass, glass, glazing
VM Systems, HVAC
Walbridge Woodworks, millwork
Willson Builders, rough and finish carpentry
Wilson Tile and Stone, hard tile