JCC theater facelift increases safety, accessibility

JCC theater facelift increases safety, accessibility

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

The Maurice Levin Theater at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange is undergoing a facelift. The chairs have been removed, new fire exits are going in, and entire wheelchair-accessible sections have been added.

The changes have been designed to increase accessibility for mobility-impaired patrons. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of October. It’s the first major overhaul since the theater was built when the building was erected in the 1960s.

“This renovation really provides an uplifting sense of safety and security for our patrons, especially those with mobility issues — people with wheelchairs and walkers,” said JCC MetroWest CEO Alan Feldman.

The upgrades will include 16 accessible spots for patrons with wheelchairs, as well as an accompanying seat for a companion, and more than 50 spaces for people with walkers, who will now be able to easily bring the devices with them to their seats.

The project will also create a secondary emergency exit, especially for those using wheelchairs or walkers. Aisle lighting throughout will further enhance safety in the theater.

“We use the theater on a regular basis for programs for the more than 1,500 older adults who participate at the eight senior adult program sites operated by JCC MetroWest,” said JCC adult services director Sharon Gordon. “The new accessibility and safety features will reduce anxiety among our older adults whose concerns for their well-being often detract from their ability to fully enjoy their participation. Now, those concerns will be abated.”

New seats, 350 of them, will be staggered to create better lines of sight to the stage or screen. Feldman acknowledged that due to wear and tear over decades of use, some of the chairs no longer worked at all, while others had no spring left.

Feldman estimated the total cost of the project at between $250,000 and $280,000 — completely paid for by external sources.

The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey provided the lead grant for the project; grants also came from The Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement, The Russell Berrie Foundation, Essex County Community Development Block Grant Funds, and a generous gift from Anne Silberstein Cohen.

Additional projects Feldman expects to undertake in the theater include replacing the curtain and replacing the sound and lighting systems. But, he said, “we will only do these projects with external funding. We are not in any position to take on any financial risk in terms of loans.”

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