Grand Opening Planned for March
A year of soul-searching allowed the members and the leadership of the Jewish Community Center to develop a new vision for the building at 360 Amity Road, which was closed for much of 2017 to recover from a devastating fire in December 2016. But parts of the facility, reopened recently, offering familiar activities in new and improved spaces; and planning for new activities that will instill excitement and new uses for the 25-year-old building.
“We are going to recapture every square inch of this building,” said Judy Alperin, CEO of the Jewish Federation, when she took local media on a tour of what was then still largely a construction site. Since then, many activities have returned to the building. A grand opening is scheduled for March 18.
The Jewish Community Center offers a pool and gym facility as well as spa membership; a library and classrooms, an auditorium, café, as well as offices for the Jewish Federation. It is open to people of all faiths. There is a preschool and an after-school program. “This is a non-profit community center built on Jewish values,” said Debbie Brander, director of member and community Engagement.
By last week, the spinning and fitness classes had returned to new equipment and bigger spaces. The pool was the first facility to open back in the summer, along with racquet ball court. So far there are temporary changing rooms, but by the end of January the hope is for fully installed, high-end lockers. Babysitting is being offered in a larger space than previously available, and come February, a new café is slated to open featuring Willoughby coffee and take-way food.
A new feature will be a multi-sport floor on one side of the gym, which will allow new activities such as floor hockey, pickle ball and indoor soccer. Basketball teams are currently still playing at Hopkins School, but are expected to return as soon as the gym floor is done. Another new feature that is highly anticipated is a climbing wall, a fun and challenging activity for kids and adults.
One issue that weighed on everyone’s mind after a string of threatening phone calls to Jewish centers throughout the nation was how to improve security and yet make people feel welcome at the same time. The redesigned entry will have a sign-in desk opposite the main door. Everyone will have to sign in, and a concierge will be available to direct people who don’t know where to go. A state grant will also help with additional security features, such as additional cameras.
“It is not often that we get a chance to stop and hit the pause button,” Alperin said of the unanticipated exile. But this was such an opportunity. The vision took shape when members expressed their ideas in town-hall-style meetings, through a survey and in focus groups. “We listened,” Alperin said. What they found was that people wanted to come back to the familiar building.
Things are taking shape very quickly, and the basketball court, the climbing wall and the locker rooms are all expected to be finished by the end of January. New tiles have been installed in the future café space. Furniture has been delivered for a new lounge outside the fitness area.
The spa will be the very last thing to be completed, with new, in-ground whirlpools. There will be lifts to lower handicapped people into the whirlpool. Generally there will be a new emphasis on making the different activities more accessible for people with physical handicaps, in particular the locker and shower facilities. The library will get a special reader for the eye-sight impaired.
The Vine auditorium will get new lighting and new floors as well as a new sound system. The former teen lounge will become a “Maker Space,” with room for messy hobbies such as pottery and woodworking; and for a space for sewing.
A new feature will be a co-working office space, where people can plug in and get their work done. Dubbed for its sponsor the “Hurwitz Hub,” the business center will function like a home office. It can also be used to offer monthly programming, such as for networking, storytelling or using social media for small businesses.
To make all these new ideas a reality, the JCC has launched a $2 million capital campaign, of which they already raised half. The improvements also include 14 new HVAC units to be installed on the roof as well as an additional solar array. The existing solar carports were not damaged by the fire, Alperin said. Coupled with a natural gas –powered co-gen unit, the center can almost be off the grid, Alperin said.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent