December 28, 2016

This Environmental Nonprofit Is Transforming An Old Synagogue Into Its New Headquarters

photo by: Greater Newark Conservancy

The Greater Newark Conservancy has spent three years rehabbing this 1884 synagogue into an educational and community gathering space. Teachers and students are currently utilizing classrooms and a kitchen in the basement.

Five dollars.

That’s how much the Greater Newark Conservancy paid for each original stained-glass window from the Oheb Shalom Synagogue when the organization bought them back from a local pawn shop. There were 21 windows in total.

The conservancy, which facilitates environmental education, job training, community gardening, and nutrition programs in the Newark, New Jersey, metro area, has so far spent three years and about $3 million rehabbing and repurposing the 1884 synagogue on the city’s Prince Street into its new headquarters. Phase one, which transformed the basement into three classrooms and a teaching kitchen/laboratory and included a 6,700-square-foot addition to the rear of the building, was completed in the spring of 2016. The aforementioned windows, which had been stolen during a period of neglect in the 1980s, were also a piece of the puzzle.

“It was in very deplorable condition, basically,” says Brian Morrell, the conservancy’s development director, of the structure’s state when his organization acquired it from the city of Newark in 1994, just after community efforts saved it from a close brush with demolition. “The roof was leaky, there was a lot of rot in the roof rafters."

photo by: Greater Newark Conservancy

The conservancy is currently raising money to rehabilitate the synagogue's sanctuary space, which will triple their ability to accomodate community programs.

The organization secured $1.5 million in grants to restore the building’s exterior in the mid-to-late 1990s. They used the money to install a new roof, clean and repoint exterior brickwork, and replicate 43 original window frames, which had also rotted.

The conservancy itself has been providing services to the Newark community since 2004, and its acre-and-a-half of teaching gardens have hosted an estimated 30,000 children from local schools for outdoor education programs in that time.

Morrell and his colleagues are currently in the process of raising money for the next phase of the project, which will involve repurposing the synagogue’s sanctuary into an event space, tripling the conservancy’s ability to accommodate community programs.

Says Greater Newark Conservancy board member Mark Gordon, "We want to get a lot of activity in the building, utilize it as much as possible, and help everyone appreciate what a special place it is."

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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