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Scotch Plains JCC is gearing up for a revamp
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Scotch Plains JCC is gearing up for a revamp

Looking to the future, center leaders plan to expand and enhance

Launching the JCC renovation capital campaign at its “Kick Off” fund-raiser are JCC president Scott Lazar, center, with, from left, vice presidents Suzanne Tucker and Stacie Friedman, past president Mindy Goldberger, and treasurer Shari Hartst
Launching the JCC renovation capital campaign at its “Kick Off” fund-raiser are JCC president Scott Lazar, center, with, from left, vice presidents Suzanne Tucker and Stacie Friedman, past president Mindy Goldberger, and treasurer Shari Hartst

At a time when most organizations are hunkering down to survive the economic storm with cutbacks in all directions, the JCC of Central New Jersey is looking ahead to when the economy rebounds.

After a year and a half of research and planning, the organization has embarked on a major interior renovation of its facilities. The fitness center is being expanded by 2,000 square feet and will be equipped with new machines, 57, up from the current 37, including state-of-the-art strength training and cardiovascular equipment, complete with entertainment systems.

The renovation also includes a dedicated group exercise studio and a separate cycling studio in the basement. There are also plans to expand the range of classes offered and enhance the educational and cultural programming offered.

JCC president Scott Lazar of Westfield said, “One tends to put off this kind of thing, but it needed to be done. We offer a lot of value, but in these days it wasn’t enough. We want to provide the kind of experience a class A facility should offer.”

Opening the center on Saturdays last summer was a first step — as Lazar said, making it a place where Jews could be together on the weekend. He continued: “Our goal is to penetrate into the Jewish community to a greater extent, and also improve our retention. We want people to think not ‘Why should I join the JCC?’ but to have a reflexive response: ‘Of course I belong to the JCC.’”

Lazar said the board of directors voted unanimously in favor of the renovation, and “in addition to the time and effort they give, they also pledged their financial support. The caliber of leadership in this organization really makes working with them very encouraging and very satisfying.”

The $1 million capital campaign to finance the improvements got a “soft launch” last year, with $250,000 donated by the board of directors, past presidents, and other lay and professional leaders. On Feb. 6, it got its official launch at “Countdown to Kick-off,” the JCC’s fund-raiser. The money raised will also be used to boost a reserve fund for ongoing improvements to the center.

To the organizers’ delight, 346 people came to the Feb. 6 event, three times more than usual for the annual fund-raiser. JCC executive director Barak Hermann welcomed that turnout as evidence of the members’ growing enthusiasm and commitment. “I’m so proud of the way the members of this community have shown themselves willing to look to the future,” he said.

Floor plans and renderings were on display to give guests a firsthand look at what to expect. In addition to the expansion, just as the cafe was remodeled and expanded in 2008, the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, locker rooms, lobby, and the Weinberg Conference Center are all getting a facelift. Thanks in part to a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, security throughout the building is being enhanced too; for example, a card-access system will be installed at the entrance to the Early Childhood Center.

Hermann said the decision to undertake this kind of upgrade was made after “financially responsible and disciplined evaluation by around 50 lay leaders and executive staff and consultants” of all the factors involved. “We’re not going crazy and spending many millions,” he said. “We just want to offer a place that is relevant for people of all ages, and presents the community with a warm, safe, and inviting atmosphere — a home-away-from-home.”

He said that membership has been declining over the past few years, and some donors and other sources of income had been lost. “We realized we have to be as proactive as possible to curtail that. To bring in the revenue needed we have to attract new members, and retain those we have. To do that we have to compete with other facilities, and offer greater value. We want to be ready when the economy does pick up,” Hermann said.

The renovation is slated to be completed by this fall. While it’s under way, to accommodate existing programs and services, the exercise machines have been moved to the basement, into what is usually the Teen Lounge. The cycling room has been moved there too, to what was a large storage room.

On a recent afternoon, people were working out there, apparently quite unperturbed by the relocation. Andrew Tucker of Westfield was running at a machine with a TV screen just above it. He said he didn’t feel put out at all by the change. “I come here about four times a week to work out, and this is really fine,” he said.

For more information about the renovation or questions about how to support the efforts, contact Hermann at 908-889-8800 ext. 202 or bhermann@jccnj.org. Updates about the renovation are also available at www.jccnj.org.

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