Dear LightHouse Supporters,
As we begin the New Year I am delighted to announce publicly details of a major new initiative the LightHouse has been working on for several years.
On December 9th the LightHouse took perhaps the biggest leap in our 114-year history. Those of you who have been close to our operations in recent times know that the new programs, services and expanded community we’ve been building has come at a price – we’ve been bulging at the seams for years. Our caring staff, new technologies and opportunities to hold larger events have been thwarted because we’ve just plain been out of space.
Back in 2007 the LightHouse Board began its journey to explore expansion opportunities at our existing San Francisco headquarters, a converted 1906 garage. Five years later, in 2012, our Board of Directors authorized the search and acquisition of a new expanded home for the LightHouse and the dozens of new programs we have been wanting to launch but couldn’t. In 2014 we found such a building, just three blocks from our current location. Our Board and staff have spent the last year engaging architects, accessible technology vendors and others to design a master plan for nothing less than a 21st Century Center of Excellence.
December 9th was a high point of that journey. In a thrilling final few days we concluded the purchase of 1155 Market St., henceforth to be known as ‘the LightHouse Building.’ That week we also received our final construction permit from the City. We’re now deep into a thorough remodel of the new space.
And what a space it will be! Our renovated 11-story building stands on Market Street smack in the heart of the SOMA high-tech corridor. Our next door neighbors are firms like Twitter, Uber, Spotify, Square, ZenDesk and a hundred more. And the mid-Market neighborhood is seeing the biggest renaissance of hotels, apartments, retail and culture ever. Inside our building some 500 city employees work, including the ground-floor offices of the Mayor’s Office on Disability. We couldn’t have better neighbors, and inside our three floors we’ll be able to build a blindness center like no other. Among the highlights:
- We’ll triple the size of our old space, including quintupling the number of classrooms, doubling our braille, tactile graphics production, low-vision clinic capacity, and adding dedicated rooms for counseling, crafts, fitness, teleconferences and science education.
- For the first time, up to 29 LightHouse students will be able to lengthen and intensify their training by staying overnight in our new student dorm rooms. There will be spaces for informal education and just plain fun, too, such as living rooms, student lounges and a second student kitchen.
- Our new multipurpose rooms will enable us to host three large simultaneous events or one large gathering of nearly 150 people.
- Our teaching kitchen will offer 12 students the chance to learn and cook together on a variety of stoves and equipment and allow us, for the first time, to teach the entire range of nonvisual cooking techniques.
- Advanced audio and video technology will allow the LightHouse to host webcasts, author podcasts, and connect blindness organizations, professionals and our community worldwide.
- We’ll double the size of our blindness products store, Adaptations, as well as adding a second dedicated demonstration space for dozens of the latest high-value technologies ready to be explored.
- We’re creating an all-new Volunteer Center, including a half-dozen private reading/computing rooms where blind community members can meet volunteers to do everything from online shopping to tax form assistance.
The New LightHouse will be an organization of partnerships. We’ll host conferences, collaborate with our tech community, engage teaching professionals, conduct user experience studies and focus groups. And we’ll do it in a modern office that is warm, welcoming, colorful and playful. The casual visitor may not notice the dozens of subtle accessibility details built into the new space, from integrated tactile cues for cane users to low-vision considerations to make our operations usable for those in every part of the blind and low-vision community. With all these capabilities, we expect we’ll be serving blind people from a far wider area than we can do now, including new national and international offerings. We’re proudest about two qualities of our future headquarters. The first is simply where it is. Fifteen steps out of our front door you’ll find an entrance to BART, Muni and adjacent stops for nearly every major transit agency in the Bay Area. Rain or shine it’ll be so much easier for our students to come and go, making, for example, the trip from downtown Oakland just a 15-minute BART ride.
And most importantly, even with a new 40,000 square-foot headquarters we’re already looking towards the future. 73 percent of the LightHouse Building is now under long-term rental contract by the City of San Francisco. In the years and decades to come, the LightHouse will use this rental as an income source, but will also have the option to expand into any of the eight floors the City now uses. That means that the LightHouse will never have to move again, but instead be able to integrate new services, programs and partnerships right alongside our bustling headquarters, giving us enviable program flexibility deep into the future. All this will cost a lot of money. Luckily in its 114 years the LightHouse has been graced with more than 60,000 individual donors and many individuals have remembered us in their wills. You may have heard of the recent large bequest we’ve received from the estate of Donald Sirkin, which has eased the difficulty in purchasing the building. And the bequest will be very helpful in maintaining a strong endowment that will allow us to offer innovative and diverse programs in the LightHouse Building forever.
That bequest and our innovative plans have helped build excitement among all of our supporters. I’m pleased to report that the quiet phase of our four-year $5 million capital campaign has already resulted in $2 million in contributions from individuals, companies, volunteers and partners. Training rooms, innovation spaces and whole floors are now in the process of being named for these donors, and future visitors will see a constellation of signs remembering people and companies who love our organization and the work our staff does. So, the inevitable question: when will we move in? We can’t wait. Our construction schedule has us starting to occupy the space at the end of March, as renovations are complete. Look for a Grand Opening celebration a few months later, likely in June. If you’ve supported us in the past, you will be on the invitation list and we’ll love showing you what we have built.
I couldn’t conclude this account of our new opportunity without thanking the vision and hard work of our predecessors, who believed in blind people enough to dedicate their lives to finding the resources and love to give us the stability we needed to be audacious. Our current Board of Directors, our donors and our caring staff have worked especially hard to help endure the uncertainties of a future move and the extra work it will entail. I thank them profusely.
Bryan Bashin, CEO
If you would like to join the Capital Campaign by making a pledge toward the LightHouse Center of Excellence we’d love to talk with you. We offer considerable naming opportunities, multi-year tax benefits and the sense of building something compassionate and enduring for the next century. Please contact our Development Director, Jennifer Sachs, at 415.694.7333 or email her at jsachs@LightHouse-sf.org. Or donate by clicking on the button below.
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