By Tim Jimenez

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Work begins shortly on a $15 million expansion to a historic synagogue near Center City. Organizers hope the project turns it into the “Beacon on North Broad.”

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This cavernous synagogue on Broad and Green streets has been home to Congregation Rodeph Shalom since 1928. But Congregation President Dena Herrin says they outgrew the place and more is needed.

“This building now looks and acts like a fortress,” she said. “It’s hard to get in. People don’t really even know if we’re open or not. There are no windows to the outside.”

She said the plan is for an 18,000 square foot addition of classrooms for their school, space to showcase some of their Jewish art, a much needed meeting place.

“Right now after services you really don’t have anywhere to go but outside into the parking lot,” explained Michael Hauptman. He is secretary on the Board of Trustees, an architect and part of the planning taskforce. He made countless presentations to members of the congregation on their masterplan to transform the building.

“You can sort of see people’s faces start to light up when it dawns on them what this is really going to do and what it’s going to look like,” Hauptman said.

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It is a 21st century addition to an early 20th century building for a congregation established in 1795. Hauptman said Rodeph Shalom is the oldest Ashkenazi congregation in the Western Hemisphere.

“Our predecessors who built (the synagogue) were really much more insular and isolated,” Herrin said. “We are completely out there. We’re out in the community, partners with our neighborhood. We have many interfaith partnerships.”

It is that sense of community that Rabbi Jill Maderer is excited about with the new addition.

“So that we can really fulfill the mission of the congregation, which is to create profound connections,” she said.

(L to R Michael Hauptman, Dena Herrin, and Rabbi Jill Maderer in front of renderings of expansion.) (credit: Tim Jimenez)

(L to R Michael Hauptman, Dena Herrin, and Rabbi Jill Maderer in front of renderings of expansion.) (credit: Tim Jimenez)

The project was designed by Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake, which has the new U.S. Embassy in London, set to open in 2017, in its portfolio.

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Hauptman says the goal is to finish construction in Spring 2015.