Community campus plans at a ‘standstill’

Community campus plans at a ‘standstill’

Years-long dream totters as team seeks options

The dream of creating a Jewish Community Campus for Princeton Mercer Bucks — a central address for the region’s Jewish services, programs, and activities — is in limbo.

Despite more than 12 years of planning and fund-raising for the $28 million plan — a project of the Jewish Community Campus Development Council — work is now suspended on completing the construction of the complex on Clarksville Road in West Windsor Township.

The campus “is at a standstill,” said council president Howard Cohen. “We’re trying our best.”

Although the development council has more than $6 million in assets on hand, much of that is not liquid, he said, and the council would still need to raise an additional $11 million to repay its lender, with $6 million of that due this coming December.

“At this point, we believe that we could, with a struggle, have enough to get the doors open,” Cohen said, “but we also have that $6 million note due at the end of the year. That’s where the problem lies.

“The biggest fear we have is that we will open the doors and shut the doors if we cannot come up with the debt due at the end of this year.”

The project had been faltering for a number of months, according to Cohen. “Last fall, we recognized that we would be running out of money,” he said.

The Jewish Community Campus was envisioned as the new home of the core Jewish agencies in the region; the tenants slated to occupy the building included the Betty and Milton Katz Jewish Community Center of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer, and the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County. The center was also designed to house the Jewish Community Center’s Early Childhood Learning Center and Abrams Day Camp, as well as classrooms, meeting rooms, a library, a kosher kitchen and cafe, a fitness facility, and an indoor pool. The campus comprises some 22 acres of recreational areas and campgrounds.

The project finally ran into a wall in October. When members of the development council informed the building contractors that they were running out of money, Cohen said, the contractors walked off the job. Since that time, the contractors have filed a lawsuit against multiple entities involved in the campus project.

“They want to finish the job and get paid,” Cohen said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The stoppage came at a time when work was 89 percent complete on the 77,000-square-foot, multiuse facility, Cohen said.

“It’s almost done,” he said, noting that work remains to be finished on the center’s electrical system, painting, and the construction of the gym floor. “The contractors have told us that the project could have been done in approximately six weeks.”

Weighing the options

Even with the campus project stalled, the Jewish Community Center’s summer day camp programs will return this summer to the campus of Rider University, from July 1 through Aug. 23. To date, some 220 campers from prekindergarten through the 10th grade are already enrolled in the day camp, the teen/tween travel programs, and the Madrichim leadership development program, according to camp director Wendy Soos.

With the shutting down of the campus project, Lee Rosenfield left his position as chief executive officer of the campus and center in March. “He was wonderful — a great fund-raiser,” Cohen said.

The drive to sign up Jewish Community Center members was moving forward very successfully, according to Cohen. “We always thought, if you build it, they will donate,” he said. “What we found out is, if you build it, they will join.” The Jewish Community Center had 400 membership units on board, he said — half the projected 800 membership units needed in the center’s first year.

Several options are on the table regarding how to proceed, Cohen said. “We’re working behind the scenes to weigh all the options.”

It will be only a matter of weeks or months before the project will either be brought back to life or end in foreclosure, he said.

“The community has a vested interest in the outcome. It obviously affects the whole community,” Cohen said. “This was a vision. The Jewish community is the ultimate stakeholder.”

Asked how he was feeling at this crossroads in the campus project, Cohen replied, “I think the entire community is disappointed.

“This was not about a building,” he said. “This was about building community.”

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