Upon entering the Jewish Community Services Building at 2100 Arch St. early on Sept. 2, one could hear the sound of water rushing beneath the ground floor.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida the day prior caused flooding along the Schuylkill River, mere blocks from the building, which is home to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Exponent and many other community organizations.
When Jamaal Chambers, the building’s facility manager, stepped into the lobby that morning — one of the few people able to enter the building that day — there was already two-and-a-half feet of water sloshing around in the basement. Submerged chairs, storage bins and computers were peeking above the water’s surface.
“It was literally like a scene from the Titanic,” Chambers said.
The water levels in the basement eventually rose to more than seven feet, flooding and damaging the auditorium, a collection of computers the Jewish Federation was preparing to donate, as well as the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, which the building has housed on a temporary basis since 2019.
The building lost power due to the flooding, as the water damaged the facility’s electrical panels, main controls, HVAC system and elevators — a similar fate to other buildings within a two-block radius, including the new Giant grocery store on 23rd Street.
No other Jewish community buildings or campuses were affected by the flooding.
Chambers and his team, as well as Robb Quattro, director of information technology and systems, worked 12-hour days the three days following the flooding, through Labor Day weekend and into Rosh Hashanah. The process of removing what PECO estimated to be more than 600,000 gallons of water from the building took more than four days. Restoration companies responsible for siphoning water out of the flooded buildings were spread thin.
Chambers said that by standing in the parking lot of 2100 Arch St., he could see a series of hoses draining water from the properties down the street.
“Every building was doing the exact same thing we were doing,” Chambers said.
While the water was being drained, Quattro and his team worked to restore the virtual private network that could allow employees to access the building’s servers remotely.
By accessing the backup server at the disaster recovery site at the Jewish Federation’s Schwartz campus, Quattro and his team were able to restore the VPN that day.
The extent of the flooding in the Jewish Community Services Building was unprecedented, Quattro said, calling it fortunate to have a disaster recovery site that was operational and updated.
“We’ve had this for nine years out there,” Quattro said. “But this latest cloud technology allowed us to restore [the VPN] within hours.”
Power was restored to the building on the morning of Sept. 9, a week after the flooding.
Though the building is now cleared of water and the power is back on, the Jewish Federation will spend the remainder of the week checking the building’s systems to assess the extent of the damage, such as whether the elevators and electrical outlets are working properly.
The Jewish Federation’s insurance company has yet to access the full building to estimate the cost of the damages.
But Jewish Federation executives are expecting a hefty cost.
“From a financial standpoint, it’s a significant loss,” Chief Operating Officer Steve Rosenberg said.
After an insurance estimate, repairs to the building can be made in earnest. Because of the dirty water from the Schuylkill, the Jewish Federation will have to demolish and replace the basement’s drywall, replace the auditorium’s 250 seats and set up blowers to dry out the carpet, which will have to be replaced eventually.
Most employees will likely not be back in the building until October at the earliest, Rosenberg said.
“We won’t let anybody back in the building unless it’s 100% safe,” Rosenberg said. “Safety is always our first priority.”
The fate of the sports hall remains to be determined.
“It appears that the cabinetry has all been damaged. The walls are totally destroyed because all the Sheetrock has to come down to make sure there’s no mold,” hall Chairperson Stephen Frishberg said.
The day after the storm, the cabinets storing the hall’s memorabilia were almost completely submerged. Chambers said he saw a basketball floating on the brackish water. Sports jerseys and gym bags had slid out of their display cases.
Like the rest of the basement, there’s no number yet for the cost of repairs for the hall, though Frishberg estimated in the neighborhood of $25,000.
But insurance will not cover that cost, as flood insurance doesn’t include below-grade, or below-street level, damages.
Luckily, Frishberg doesn’t think he will have to replace the hall’s memorabilia, which can be cleaned and restored, with the exception of a few paper slips.
The question of where the restored memorabilia will be housed is unclear.
2100 Arch St. was only supposed to be a temporary home for the sports hall, which was in the Gershman Y before that space was taken over by the University of the Arts, Rosenberg said. He hopes this gives the hall an opportunity to find a home to attract more traffic. He said the hall is the area’s “best-kept secret.”
Frishberg is trying to find a silver lining.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll rebuild it even more beautiful than what it was,” he said.
The Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame has set up a GoFundMe to assist in the cost of restoration: gofundme.com/f/help-rebuild-our-museum.
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