A Floor AND a Ceiling (and tech, and furniture, and paint, etc.) – Renovation Update Part I

Last June, I blogged out the bittersweet news of the need for delaying the renovation of our school from what was supposed to be last July – October to this May-August.  Today, I am blogging out (and sending in a separate email to ensure every current parent receives it…although shouldn’t they be reading my blog each week?) the exciting update – yes this is really happening!  Before jumping to all the categories of things you (if you are a current parent) may be wondering / worrying about, let me at least start with the end in mind…

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of an anonymous donor in our community who is providing $2 million, we are on the cusp of providing our students and teachers with classrooms as innovative and as excellent as they deserve.  Phase I of this project focuses on the classrooms themselves, with an extra emphasis on the first floor.  Every classroom in OJCS is getting all-new furniture (student desks, teacher desks and tables), flooring, ceiling, lighting, paint and technology).  Every classroom on the first floor is additionally getting all new millwork for a fully finished space.  The hallways will receive a bit of attention as well (painting, new door signs, upgraded plaques, etc.).  [Future phases will extend the new millwork to the remaining classrooms, a complete redesign of the hallways (including lockers), the lobby and perhaps the offices and teachers’ lounge as well.]  I have included a rendering of the first floor classrooms above and here is a rendering of the second floor classrooms (when fully finished):

All of this is amazing and as much as I do not want to wish away the rest of 2023-2024, I cannot wait to see everyone’s faces when they see our new digs for 2024-2025.  But, you might be wondering, “Wait, did you say ‘May’?!  What does that mean?!”.

Yeah.  Us too.

In order for all of this to be ready for teachers and students to report back to school, it will require us to fully relocate the entire JK-3 for the months of May & June…and if you look at a calendar, it really means being ready to go by the time we reach Passover Break.

Deep breaths.

Naturally, our teachers and families will have LOTS of questions, and perhaps, a few concerns about how all of this is going to work.  The first and most important thing to know is that we are not trying to do this on our own.  We are coordinating with Campus and a variety of community partners to work through the logistics, the details and to help us make it happen.  (And, yes, there may be a place for parents to volunteer their time – and trucks.)

My goal in this, the first of two posts, is to try to set your mind at ease that we are in fact considering all the things necessary to relocate our JK-3 and to continue to run our 4-8 safely, and that all our students are able to continue to learn in safety and with integrity.  I am going to lay out for you all the things we are currently working on figuring out so that you know that we know.  And then, soon, I will return and provide the answers and plans to all those things.  (And if I missed anything, I’m sure someone will let me know!)

Here, and I am sure this is not in order of priority, are all the things that need to be true as we enter “reno time”:

  • We are relocating JK-3 to Kehillat Beth Israel.  They have the space and the proximity and they are willing and generous partners.
  • Furniture, technology, curriculum books, – all the stuff that teachers and students will need to finish out the year – will be carefully labelled by our classroom teachers and find its way over.
  • Drop-off & Pick-up plans (but one imagines a double process for those with kids in both places will be needed).
  • What will be true for before care?  How will children who are enrolled for aftercare and/or after school programming back to the JCC?
  • Security
  • Fire Drills and Emergency Contingency Planning
  • Either Keren/Jon present at KBI each and every day
  • Spec Ed Team / Resource Teachers present at KBI each and every day
  • Hot Lunch (that’s the easiest one as it is currently prepared at KBI under OVH supervision)
  • Recess / PE / Outdoor Spaces
  • Amping up wifi
  • Daily Communication b/w locations; Emergency Communication for KBI
  • Assemblies, Special Programs, Holidays, etc.
  • Adjusting 4-8 functioning to a building under renovation

Yes, that’s a lot, and I’m sure there is more.  The good news, again, is that we are committing the resources necessary to manage this project effectively and although there will be inconveniences, our hope is that they will simply be that – inconvenient.  I realize that the answers are important and it is our intent to push those out as soon as (enough of them) are ready to share.  In the meanwhile, don’t be shy about asking any questions you have or expressing any concerns you are holding.

As we pivot towards all the amazing events that constitute the end of 2023-2024, while we launch the beginning of celebrating our 75th Anniversary Year, and with 2024-2025 gearing up to be our biggest and best year – with whatever inconveniences this renovation will inevitably create – I am so proud to be heading this school at this time.  What better way to launch the next 75 years of excellence, of Jewish community and commitments, of helping secure the future of Jewish Ottawa than this.

A Floor AND a Ceiling (and furniture and tech and paint)

So…it is June and you are probably wondering where are all the signs of pending construction if this project is scheduled to begin the first week in July?  That is a reasonable question and one I’ll answer here.

Let’s first dip back in time to when we first made the announcement of a $1.5 million gift to transform classrooms and learning spaces at OJCS.  Ever since, we have been working hard with our friends at Figurr on design and costing.  There is no question as to which of those two has been more fun!  COVID, time and inflation have not been on our side as we only have limited windows of time for construction and costs have gone up.  Heading into 2022-2023, we believed that we were on track for this project – now split into two phases and with $2 million pledged from the extraordinary, generous and anonymous donor – with Phase I ready to begin this summer.  We finalized the base building needs, the overall design, and much of the tech and furniture; we hired a general contractor, secured permits and bid out the work.  We even figured out contingency planning for when the work (inevitably) goes long and classes need to be held in alternative locations.  We got close to being able to pull it all together to trigger construction on July 1…but not close enough.

As we were finalizing all the “this needs to be true”s for Campus, the school, teachers, families, etc., it became clear that trying to rush for a July 1 start date left too many opportunities for mistakes on a project too important not to get completely right.  And so that means what you might imagine it means.  Mostly.

Instead of launching Phase I – which is intended to include a complete transformation of the first floor, lobby and hallways, as well as classrooms, ceilings, walls, lighting, and lockers AND furniture, tech and paint across the whole school – the first week in July and planning for the first floor to relocate for this August and September, we are now planning to launch Phase I in May 2024, relocating classes for (possibly) part of May and June so that it is completely ready by the first day of school in 2024-2025.  (Phase II would look to launch the summer of 2025.)  We’ll have much more detail about this “relocation” and what it means once we get into next year.

Are we disappointed?


How will we mitigate that disappointment?

Partly by doing a much better job sharing high-quality renderings of the work around school and on our website.  Partly by investing students and teachers in the furniture and tech selection now that we have more time to work with.

Should we anticipate future delays?

We can’t completely predict the future, but certainly when it comes to “Phase I” I do not anticipate additional delays.  There is no reason to believe that we will not begin this project on the new timeline in the way I have described.

As much as it would have been nice to start our 75th Anniversary Year in partially new digs, there is also a nice symmetry to launching our renovation as a capstone to our 75th Anniversary Year and a bridge to what we hope will be our next 75 years.  We know that most important learning is what happens inside and outside the walls, not the wall themselves.  We also know that schools in disrepair are the ones who make those claims.  Our students deserve a physical learning environment on par with the excellence we provide and aspire towards in every other part of our program.  And they will have it, and have it soon.

Just not as soon as we had hoped.

We will do a better job keeping you updated on this project, including what to expect come next May when we formally launch.  In the meanwhile, you will have greater access to designs and samples and should you have any questions, concerns, feedback or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.  I look forward to a North Star that is not just about floors with no ceilings, but floors with ceilings, hallways with appropriate lockers and learning nooks, classrooms with appropriate furniture and technology, and a school that looks as innovative as it educates.