UA Hillel to start renovation

Artist’s rendering of proposed Hillel renovation

After more than three years in the planning, the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation is ready to begin work on renovating and expanding its current building.

Hillel will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site (1245 E. Second Street) at 8 a.m. on Thursday, May 5.

Hillel serves as a center for Jewish life at the UA, providing services for the approximately 3,500 Jewish students attending the university. Over the past two decades, the programs offered by Hillel the number of students using the building have increased, says Michelle Blumenberg, who has been executive director of the UA Hillel Foundation since 1992.

Students are searching for places to hang out with the Jewish community on campus and a comfortable space for their non-

Jewish friends as well, says Blumenberg. “Students’ #1 suggestion for the renovation is to add plenty of lounge space for study and socializing,” she says. “They also desire a larger café area and more class offerings.”

The renovation incorporates multiple lounges, meeting and work spaces on the main floor. Food service will be re-located to the lower level and will include the Oy Vey Café, an espresso bar and a new space where holiday and Shabbat meals will be served. The new wing, which will sit on stilts above the parking lot, features multi-purpose rooms that will serve as classrooms for some Arizona Center for Judaic Studies courses plus event space.

Capital Campaign Chair Gary Kippur explains that the impetus for the renovation was a $250,000 matching grant from International Hillel in 2008. By the spring of 2010, he says, donors for match had been found “so we had that part wrapped up.” To date, more than $1.57 million has been raised in contributions toward the total campaign goal of $2 million. “People from across the country have been answering the call,” with many of the lead gifts coming from Tucsonans who are UA alumni, says Kippur. Donors “thought it was a great project. They realized we needed to update the building to bring people back in.”

Hillel’s building was built in 1984 and has shown its age. “We’ve been band-aiding it for a while now,” says Blumenberg.

Architect Frank Mascia of CDG Architects met with multiple focus groups to determine Hillel’s future needs. The general contractor is TL Roof and funding is being provided by Alliance Bank.

The new building, says Blumenberg, “will be an even more welcoming center for Jewish students and a place where everyone is welcome to continue their Jewish journey culturally, socially, spiritually.”

Project coordinators are working on a time line that will allow Hillel to welcome students to the renovated building when they return to campus in August 2011, she says.

“I think that the ‘new’ Hillel will refresh the view of Hillel that students have,” says Joey Bendah, a UA junior who has been Hillel’s liaison to CATPAC, a student group that deals with the U.S.-Israel relationship. “For those that were not involved, Hillel will now be a place they want to ‘check out.’ For those that already participate, it is an upgrade to what they already expect from Hillel.”

UA President Robert Shelton calls Hillel “one of the most successful student organizations at the University of Arizona,” adding that the renovation “is exciting and important news for the cultural life of our campus.”

The University of Arizona Hillel is an affiliate of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. Details of the expansion and renovation project will soon be available at www.uahillel.org. For more information, call 624-6561.