Kansas University's major Jewish student organization is getting ready for a big move.
Hillel, which has been based in a house at 940 Miss. for 25 years, is looking for a higher-profile location to construct a larger center.
"Prospective students are going to the house we have now, and that's their picture of Hillel - a small house on Mississippi Street," said Liz Cohen, the organization's student president. "It makes us seem much smaller than we are. We're hoping to get a center that makes us look as big as we feel."
Jay Lewis, executive director, said the organization had identified several potential sites near campus and hoped to purchase land in the next two to five months. He said he hoped a new center - either built from scratch or remodeled from an existing building - would be completed within three years.
"We're in a small, little, old house," Lewis said. "There's a disconnect between our physical space and us being a solid Jewish presence on campus. The St. Lawrence Center gives the right impression of Catholics on campus, and the Islamic Center and (Ecumenical Christian Ministries) gives an impression."
Lewis said Hillel served about 600 of the approximately 1,800 Jewish students on campus last year, and the organization has about 200 members who are actively involved.
That means most of the events, including dinners, classes and social events, must be scheduled on campus or elsewhere in Lawrence - and not at the Hillel House.
"Anything over 15 to 20 (people) is not great here," he said.
He said he hoped the new site would be in a more heavily traveled location, have more meeting space and have better kitchen facilities for Shabbat dinners.
He said some money has been raised for the land purchase but that a larger fundraising campaign would start once a specific project has been outlined.
Cohen, a junior from Leawood, also hopes a new Hillel building will improve the group's image on campus.
"Even students who are involved in Hillel don't know we have a house," she said.
Having a location closer to campus could give Jewish students a place to socialize, she said.
So far, Cohen said, only Hillel's executive board knows much about the details of the planned move. She's hoping that changes this school year.
"I think really soon people are going to be getting more excited," she said.