Housing Task Force

Or Shalom is designing the future of our synagogue


July 7, 2022 Update


Erika Gerson, Or Shalom’s architect, has filed our application for a development permit. The plans are exciting – two classrooms, an enlarged kitchen, an elevator, additional office space, renovations to the social hall, repair of the water-damaged north facade and enhanced landscaping. The design team – John Fuerst, Jackie Levitan, Reva Malkin, Wendy Oberlander, Mark Welch, Russell Wvong – worked with Erika to incorporate the feedback from the Or Shalom community into a beautiful and functional design, preserving what we love and adding what we need. If you want a look at the details, drop John a note and he will share the full application with you.

We are still a year or two out from shovels in the ground. The application must make its way through the permitting section of the city’s planning department and then must be approved by the board of variance. The Housing Task Force will continue to work with Erika to push the application as quickly as possible and will keep you informed with regular updates.

Here are a couple of perspective renderings to whet your appetite. (Rest assured, the tree at the northwest corner remains – it is just taken out of the rendering to better show the front of the building.)

Click each image for enlarged version.

Recording of the November 2, 2021 Community Meeting

Chat from the meeting is here.

The Story of the Or Shalom Renovation Project

Why a Renovation to Or Shalom Now? 

Over the past several years, it became evident that our beloved building on 10th Avenue was no longer able to meet some of the needs of our community. The issues outlined below and the discovery of water damage to the north exterior wall prompted this renovation project. This document tells the story of how we got to this point and what we are proposing for the future. 

What Has Happened Up To Now 

In 2018, the Or Shalom board could no longer ignore a number of issues with our building, prompting the board to form a Housing Task Force in January of 2019. Chaired by John Fuerst, and including Wendy Oberlander, Moises Mansur, Richard Wassersug, Russil Wvong, with Reva Malkin, Stepan Vdovine, Motti Lis and Jacqueline Levitin joining later, and advised by David Berson, Marty Puterman and Val Dolgin, the task force explored our pressing needs for: 

      • Separate spaces in support of our adult classes, children’s programming, Shabbat morning activities, and event child-minding. 
      • Additional office space for our teachers and program coordinators.
      • Expansion of the kitchen, including more counter space, an upgraded dishwasher, and more efficient storage of kitchenware. 
      • Increased storage. 
      • Improved accessibility to the building, the sanctuary and the social hall with an elevator. 
      • A fix to the severe acoustic problem in the social hall while improving the insulation value. 
      • Improved access from the social hall to the east garden. 
      • Repair of the water damage to the building’s north wall shell. 

The task force explored two alternatives: (1) finding a larger, more suitable existing structure to move to or (2) renovating our existing building. After research into both options, the task force brought forward a proposal to the board in September of 2019 to renovate and expand our existing building. The task force based the decision on a number of factors:

      • our current property is located centrally to our membership, 
      • the sanctuary is well loved and perfect for our current and future needs (and will not be altered in the renovations), 
      • and expansion is less costly than purchase and renovation of another building. 

The Board also approved (a) hiring an architectural firm to develop a schematic design for expansion and (b) assessing the financial capacity of the Or Shalom community. A report was presented to the community in November of 2019

During the next six months the task force, rabbi, and other members of the community secured substantial pledges towards funding the renovation, received a generous gift to fund the initial costs associated with putting forward a plan to the city, and completed a search for an architectural firm. In June 2020 the board engaged the firm Boni Maddison with lead architect Erika Gerson. 

In September 2020 the task force reported to the community in the High Holiday Keren Or on progress of the project. Since then, the task force and the architects have worked on a set of plans which address the needs of the synagogue and which have a reasonable chance of being accepted by the city planners. The major issue with the city is the need to increase the total square footage beyond that which is otherwise permissible. Our team believes we have a good chance of doing so, though it means a lengthy process involving neighbourhood outreach and an application to the Board of Variance. Development of an application has involved creating detailed floor plans and elevations as well as reports from structural engineers, acousticians, landscape architects and electrical engineers. All this work is being finalized for a presentation to the city later this year. 


The goal is to complete the expansion and renovation at a cost of no more than $2 million dollars. A number of individuals in the congregation have come forward with pledges that will fund a fair portion of this. The Task Force is also exploring various grants that might support the accessibility, energy conservation, and community amenities of the project. Once the development application is approved by the city, we will start a major capital campaign. 

A More Detailed Look at the Needs 

      • Repair of the water damage to the building’s north wall envelope. 
        • This is a much needed repair that cannot be avoided. Engineers specializing in building envelopes have assessed the damage and estimated that repair, if done alone, would cost around $200,000. 
      • Improved accessibility to the building, the sanctuary and the social hall with an elevator.
        • Repairing the front of the building provides an excellent opportunity to put in an elevator. We take access seriously and our current building is woefully inadequate, particularly in moving to and from the sanctuary and the social hall and east garden.
        • This is equally important as some of our members age and others bring their children, strollers and all, to the building. 
      • Separate spaces for classes, children’s programming, Shabbat morning activities, and event child-minding.
        • In the last decade, our education programme has grown exponentially, becoming a vital component of our activities as a synagogue. With this growth, and the increasing membership of young families, our current lack of dedicated classrooms and childminding spaces has become pressing.
        • In the same time period, we have added new public events, such as our Light in Winter Concert series and meditation retreats, which will greatly benefit from the many improvements offered by the renovation
      • Additional office space for our teachers and program coordinators.
        • We currently have three staff and will be on-boarding a fourth later this fall (the Program and Project Coordinator position). Aside from the Rabbi’s study, there is only one office at present. 
      • Expansion of the kitchen, including more counter space, an upgraded dishwasher, and more efficient storage of kitchenware.
        • Our kitchen and its role in our celebrations and weekly services is close to the heart of our community and needs these changes to operate well. 
      • Increased storage.
        • Although a modest increase, we are hoping that the storage will be more functional and accessible with this renovation. 
      • A fix to the severe acoustic problem in the social hall and the street noise in the sanctuary while improving the energy efficiency of the building.
        • With noise dampening materials and consideration to the acoustics in the renovation process, the social hall will be more functional as a dining area and activity space.
        • The sanctuary windows will be changed from single pane to double or triple pane to reduce the substantial traffic noise that currently plagues the hall at most any time of day and to increase the efficiency of our heating system.
        • Renovations will include an energy efficient electric heat pump for the classroom and office areas and installing enough electrical capacity to allow a future elimination of the gas furnace that heats the sanctuary and social hall with heat pumps. 
      • Improved access from the social hall to the east garden.
        • The east side of the social hall will now have more glass and two sets of doors opening to the east garden. In good weather, this can open the hall to the garden and in all seasons provide more natural light. 

A Note on Limitations 

As mentioned, the project can only go forward with approval from the city. Or Shalom is located in a residential neighbourhood with zoning restrictions that would limit even the modest expansion that we are proposing without approval by the Board of Variance. The project is also limited by the financial capacity of the Or Shalom community. With our plans, we are proposing the maximum expansion that the city could reasonably grant. 

The Next Steps 

      • On November 2, we will present the project to the Or Shalom community for feedback and comments, so that the plans presented to the city fully reflect the needs and hopes of the congregation. 
      • We will, in the near future, survey the immediate neighbourhood and give our neighbours a chance to comment. 
      • Finally, Erika Gerson will complete the application for a development permit and present it to the city. The timing thereafter depends on the city planners and Board of Variance, but it is possible that we will have the approval to go forward to a building permit by the middle of 2022.