The past few weeks have been an intensifying race to the finish line for Lesley Black-Vogel, cochair of the building committee of the Jewish Community Center of Central New Jersey. Together with her painting partner, Debbie Livingston, the Scotch Plains artist and decorator has been putting the finishing touches to the renovation under way at the center.
Next Monday, June 21, members will be invited in to view the changes that have been made to the refurbished lobby and fitness center, especially to view the warm, welcoming look Black-Vogel and Livingston have been creating, along with a team of contractors.
But their first deadline was a week earlier, in time to have the spacious, opened-up exercise room ready for the annual meeting on June 9. Seats were arrayed where all the new cardiovascular and strength-training machines were soon to be installed — but those attending got a sense of the inviting, honey-toned decor, with gleaming windows overlooking the pool below.
Barak Hermann, the JCC’s executive director, took as his theme Walt Disney’s motto: “Dare, dream, and believe.” The goal of the renovation is to retain members and attract new ones, he said, and thereby “weather any storm and ensure that the JCC stays an amazing Jewish home away from home.”
He acknowledged that there were those who doubted the wisdom of embarking on such improvements in the present economic climate, but, he said, with foundation grants and other funding sources drying up, it was a bigger risk not to change.
In six months, $807,000 has been raised — $711,000 in capital campaign pledges from 60 donors, and two grants — one for $20,000 from the Hyde and Watson Foundation and $77,000 from the Department of Homeland Security. Hermann called on the members to join the 60 who have already donated to the campaign. “Any amount is welcome,” he said.
Work goes on
Work on the renovation began during the winter. Black-Vogel stepped in two months ago to help bring the design vision in within budget, scouting across the region for materials and furniture. Then she and Livingston, who decorated the center’s cafe two years ago, took care of the finishing touches — picking out paint colors and doing things like painstakingly hand-painting the faux mosaic around the bathroom sinks rather than using costly glass tiles.
Larry Schwartz came on board about half-way through that process — at the beginning of May — as director of the fitness center, which is being run in conjunction with MediFit, a fitness management company.
A recent arrival from Florida, Schwartz is already sounding like the longtime JCC staffers, waxing enthusiastic about how getting — or staying — fit can be blended with all the center’s other attractions, like socializing with friends or taking part in its popular cultural activities.
On a recent morning, stepping around ladders and paint cans, Schwartz proudly showed the new set-up to a budding weight-lifter, five-year-old Ethan Fink of Westfield, who was there with his mother, Jessica. She and her husband, David, and Ethan’s big brother, eight-year-old Aidan, have been members for about seven years.
Jessica was particularly impressed with the “floating” floor in the airy exercise/dance studio. Schwartz said there will about 30 classes a week there through the summer, and by fall, as many as 40.
Between now and then, the renovations will continue, with the painting and carpeting, completing the new bathrooms and locker rooms, finishing the new secure entrance to the Early Childhood wing, and refurbishing the Weinberg Conference Center.