Point of Return

Point of Return

A devastating fire one year ago scattered members of the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven. In its aftermath, while cleanup and renovation were underway, the JCC’s programs moved to a variety of schools and municipal facilities in New Haven, Woodbridge, Orange and West Haven. When members first arrived in their temporary fitness facility, Judy Alperin (pictured above), CEO of the overarching Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, expected them to head straight for their favorite equipment.

Instead, she says, they headed straight for one another. “They embraced, and they were chatting and catching up, and they missed one another. That truly is what we’re all about. We’re about community, and people.”

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Bit by bit, that community is coming back together. During a recent hard hat tour of the 106,000-square-foot community center, located off Amity Road in Woodbridge, members, who can be Jewish or not, were seen swimming in the pool and playing racquetball while the din of construction continued around them. Preschoolers appeared unfazed by the disruption as they stacked colored blocks and painted at easels. Workers were busy painting hallways, pouring concrete in the spa area and gluing down rolls of rubber flooring in the main fitness room.

The fitness center is scheduled to reopen today, December 27, and in March the JCC plans to celebrate its grand reopening in a vastly reconfigured space, including a Willoughby’s cafe and food marketplace; a makerspace for hands-on projects; a coworking business center; showers and whirlpools now more accessible to the disabled; a larger cycling room filled with new indoor bikes; a climbing wall; multi-sport flooring in the gym for new activities; an art gallery; a “quiet room” for meditation; and increased building security as well as many of the familiar old amenities. There’s “amped-up” programming, Alperin says, and changes have been made to the infrastructure as well, including new fiber optics and solar arrays, which had been planned before the fire.

Members helped decide what the new JCC should be. Using a Shark Tank-style process, they convened two committees, brainstormed features for the renovation and pitched their ideas in an evening event. The result was upgrades that extend about $800,000 beyond what insurance would have covered, Alperin says. In addition, she points out, they needed to plan for ongoing maintenance of the building, which first opened in 1992. In order to fund not only the renovations but also the future, the JCC has undertaken a $2 million capital campaign. More than $1 million has been committed thus far, including major gifts from several donors.

The fire broke out in the men’s sauna on the afternoon of December 5, 2016, when 350 people were at the community center. Everyone was evacuated safely. Then came the hardest part. “It was a difficult year,” Alperin admits. About a third of the memberships lapsed. Now she hopes to win them back, along with newcomers. “We’re a nonprofit community center that is open to everybody,” she says, “and while we celebrate the fact that we’re a Jewish institution and we’re built on Jewish values, that only informs our ability to welcome everyone.”

In a note to members in the winter program guide, JCC executive director Scott Cohen acknowledged that what’s really at the “heart of the renovation” is exactly what Alperin observed back in that temporary fitness facility: community. “[M]ost importantly,” he wrote, after listing all of the new amenities, “there will be a comfortable place for all to meet and spend time at our shared home.”

Members and curious neighbors alike will be given the chance to tour the refurbished community center beginning in January, once membership desks are in place and the cafe is open, Alperin promises. Then, hopefully, the JCC can look forward to a happier new year.

Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven
360 Amity Rd, Woodbridge (map)
(203) 387-2424
Website | Membership Info | Hours &
Schedules

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is The Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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