Minnesota Hillel receives $5.5 million for renovations

Minnesota Hillel members say the renovations will help promote community at its campus building.

Minnesota Hillel at 1521 University Ave SE as seen on Sept. 23.

Cleo Krejci

Minnesota Hillel at 1521 University Ave SE as seen on Sept. 23.

Brooke Sheehy

Minnesota Hillel on the University of Minnesota campus will use city money for substantial upgrades to its facility. 

The Minneapolis City Council approved $5.5 million in bonds for Minnesota Hillel to upgrade its facility on University Avenue Southeast on Sept. 13. MN Hillel members said the improvements will help the organization foster a greater sense of community in its building. 

The building opened in 1955 as a gathering space for commuter students on the site of a former fraternity house. MN Hillel Executive Director Benjie Kaplan said the current layout of the building does not make it an appealing place for students to gather in their free time.  

“There is just a lot of things about this building that are not conducive with the way that students gather today. One of the biggest examples I use is that in 1955, it was great that there was only one outlet in each room, but today you need one every five feet,” Kaplan said. 

Structural improvements to the building will include adding air conditioning, a fire suppression system and improved disability access, including adding an elevator and wheelchair ramp. 

MN Hillel Student President Carli Shapiro said improving the building’s accessibility will make the space more welcoming to all students. 

“On the basic level, functionality is our main goal. In our building now, we don’t have any wheelchair access. It’s all stairs, so we are getting an elevator which will be nice and very inclusive and a ramp up to the front door,” Shapiro said. 

Right now, MN Hillel operates about 90 different programs for students per year. While these programs bring in more students, daytime hours see significantly less traffic. Kaplan said the building’s lack of air conditioning and outlets can deter students from coming in during this downtime. 

“The things that students are looking for during the day, we just don’t have, so we are really hoping to create a space where throughout the day all students needs can be met in our space and students will find new and exciting ways to gather that aren’t just about programming,” Kaplan said. 

The project’s general contractor, president of Prime General Contractors, LLC Derek Clarkin, said new features will include a commercial kitchen, sports court, rooftop patio and an abundance of outlets in the basement study rooms. 

MN Hillel is part of the University of Minnesota Greek Letter Chapter House Historic District, and designated houses are not allowed to change the exterior appearance without going through major hurdles at the city level. Because the original Star of David brickwork is significant to both students and alumni, MN Hillel has agreed to keep the exterior as is. 

Clarkin and his team plan to start renovations as early as Nov. 1, with an end date slated around August 2020. In the meantime, MN Hillel will be renting space from the University’s YMCA facility. 

“We are really going to be relying on the campus community in finding different spaces for doing new and interesting programs and working with all of our students to make sure that they feel engaged and welcomed and most of all excited for the changes that are coming,” Shapiro said.