With a membership of more than 250 families and Hebrew school enrollment topping 50 students, Temple Adas Israel is bursting at the seams, and has proposed a slate of renovations to better accommodate its congregation, Rabbi Daniel Geffen said in an interview Wednesday.
Representatives of the 122-year-old synagogue — Long Island’s oldest, founded in 1896 — will go before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday to seek four variances that would green-light some of those renovations.
Rabbi Geffen said the plan is “showing love to a building that has shown a lot of love to this community for a long time” and “trying to make sure this building can serve this community in the best way possible.”
One of the issues, he said, is the building’s lack of an elevator. Built in 1898, the structure’s lack of full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act was “grandfathered” due to the age of the building, Rabbi Geffen said. Currently, if a congregant in a wheelchair needs to get from the main level to the lower level, he or she has to exit the building and travel around it to a separate entrance.
“It’s not a great feeling,” Rabbi Geffen said.
A lift is proposed near the main entrance, which necessitates building a vestibule, which in turn necessitates expanding the “social hall” into the parking lot by a few feet, taking up the current ramp space. A new ramp and new stairs would be constructed outside the building.
Variances for total lot coverage of an additional 7.4 percent and building coverage of 6.2 percent more will be considered by the ZBA. A front yard setback variance of 16.7 feet for the new exterior staircase will also be considered, as well as a separate front yard setback variance for the new vestibule, considered a porch, of 2.9 feet.
The ZBA will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Sag Harbor Municipal Building meeting room.
Another issue, he said, is that the Hebrew school is simply out of space. The lower level is divided into three “classroom” spaces, including two that are separated by a tie-dyed cloth partition thumb-tacked into place, and a combination play room and office for the Hebrew school director.
“We have students learning in every corner of this building,” Rabbi Geffen said.
Changes to the lower level don’t necessarily need variances. The plans include reconfiguring the space with movable walls to be able to create flexible learning spaces and the ability to open it up to larger gatherings. An upgraded kitchen is also proposed, as well as a new, more efficient septic system.
The historic sanctuary will remain the same.
“Because of the footprint of our property, there isn’t much room for additional expansion,” Rabbi Geffen said, “so a lot of our work is trying to use our existing space with greater efficiency.”
He said the work will be done “in as thoughtful and conscientious a way as possible” to minimally disrupt its Elizabeth Street and Atlantic Avenue neighbors and its congregants.
“We’re here because the Sag Harbor community has been so supportive over the years, and we certainly don’t want to take that for granted,” he said.
The late architect Lee Harris Pomeroy began to design project before his recent passing, and his firm continues to work on the project, Rabbi Geffen said.
The project is expected to cost $3.5 million, of which $2.2 million has already been pledged. An anonymous donor from the synagogue’s membership offered a matching donation that will total $2 million. Rabbi Geffen said about 75 percent of the congregation has participated in the fundraising effort so far.
“There is real enthusiasm and support,” he said. “This is unprecedented for our congregation. … It’s about doing the job we want to do and to the best of our abilities.”