When the Hillel building at the University of Maryland opened in the 1970s, it was a comfortable fit for a staff of seven. Nowadays, there are three times that many people vying for office space to run the agency’s programs for Jewish students.
“We are blessedly overcrowded,” said Rabbi Ari Israel, Hillel’s executive director. “The old building is tired, physically tired.”
The Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Hillel Center, across the street from U-Md.’s business school, has “outgrown the space,” agreed Elan Burman. As the agency’s capital campaign director, Burman is leading an effort to raise $21 million for a new building to open by the fall of 2022. So far, $10 million has been raised.
Initial plans called for the building to open by 2021. But delays in the design process and fundraising led the agency to delay the project a year, Burman said, adding that plans now call for ground breaking by July 2021.
About 6,500 Jewish students attend the university, according to Maryland Hillel.
The new building will be built at 7505 Yale Ave., near Fraternity Row. In a land exchange, the university will receive the grounds of the current building. Hillel will take possession of the site that, by coincidence, was the address of the original Maryland Hillel in the 1940s. The U-Md. Office of Real Estate did not respond to a request for an interview in time for publication.
Burman said his committee is trying to trim the cost from $21 million to $17 million. “We are trying to be very sensitive to cost,” Burman said. If Hillel does not raise the full amount by March 2020, it will redesign the building, he said.
“We’re being very deliberate in the design to actually position this as a second student union,” Burman said.
The current design, covering 38,000 square feet, will have two floors with four multipurpose rooms, seven huddle rooms where students can study or hold meetings, a kosher dining hall, a café, a game room, a Jewish learning center and a rehearsal space. Burman said the planned dining hall is twice the size of the dining room in Hillel’s current building.
“It’s a game changer for us. That ability to enable students to find their path,” Israel said, “and the new location is going to afford us the ability not only to grow but also to expand to new horizons.”
Burman hopes the new location will bring more traffic from nearby fraternities and sororities. He said the Yale Avenue property is closer to the university’s North Campus than the current building, making it more accessible for freshman and sophomores who populate that area.
Burman said the planned Hillel will serve students far into the future. “We’re building the Hillel for the next five decades at least.”