‘To make it better for everybody’

‘To make it better for everybody’

JCC to break (symbolic) ground for renovations

Almost two years of fund-raising will begin to pay off for the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades when the Tenafly center breaks ground on its long-awaited renovations at the end of the month.

Although construction will not begin for at least several weeks after the event, the JCC will host the ceremonial groundbreaking on Sunday, Sept. 28, to unveil new signs marking the agency’s formal transition to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. The JCC began using the name in January 2007 when Bill and Maggie Kaplen of Tenafly donated $5 million to kick-start the $26 million campaign to fund the renovation. While the JCC agency will bear the Kaplen name, the JCC building will be rededicated as The Leonard Rubin Building in honor of the JCC’s co-founder, who died last year.

“Lenny was an ardent, passionate, and dedicated leader who helped establish the JCC’s current facility more than 30 years ago,” said Robin Miller, the JCC’s president. “It is an honor to be dedicating our building in his name, as he was a mentor to several generations of JCC leadership and professional staff and was a major influence on everything the JCC represents.”

Avi Lewinson and Robin Miller review plans for the expansion. Photos courtesy kaplen Jcc on the palisades

The groundbreaking will include performances by the Shira Community Choir and breakfast. Children in the JCC’s nursery school – which will be most affected by the renovation, which is focusing on the center’s early childhood areas – have spent the month drawing pictures of what the JCC means to them. Those pictures will be sealed in a time capsule and buried during the expansion.

“Nothing I have done in my long life has brought me the kind of happiness that giving away my money has,” Bill Kaplen said last year when the JCC began the campaign. “[It is] a physical sensation – joy. Pure, sweet, unmistakable joy that something can’t exist without you. If you have the resources to give but don’t, no matter how young you are, you are denying yourself something wonderful.”

“At these moments,” he added, “when you see what you’ve been able to accomplish and you understand its full effect on the people it was intended to affect, you’re not really engaging in philanthropy anymore. You realize that you haven’t really given anything away. You’ve multiplied what you had a hundred times over and kept it for yourself.”

To date, the capital campaign has reached $21,953,901 of its $26 million goal, according to Elliot Karp, the JCC’s campaign consultant. Organizers planned for $19 million of that goal to go toward construction costs, while $3.5 million would be put into an endowment fund. The rest of the money would be used for administrative costs for fund-raising and construction. Beyond the Kaplens’ gift, the JCC received a $2 million challenge grant from the Russell Berrie Foundation in June 2007 and several other large gifts from the agency’s longtime leaders.

“The entire campaign’s been remarkable,” Karp said. “From the JCC’s perspective, it was important not just to renovate the facility but to grow the endowment fund. Some contributors enjoy physical building projects, others like perpetual funds like endowments. We’ve been successful with both.”

Bill and Maggie Kaplen

“What’s been really extraordinary has been the response of people,” said Pearl Seiden, chair of the JCC’s endowment campaign. “It’s an extraordinary amount of money we’ve raised. We still have a ways to go but I’m confident we will reach our goal.”

Almost 300 people have donated to the campaign and as the groundbreaking gets closer Seiden would like to involve more people, including those who have never given before.

The campaign is “sensitive” to the country’s current economic downturn, Seiden added. “We’re all feeling the crunch,” she said. As such, fund-raisers were “more cautious” than they were a year ago. Still, she does not foresee any major hurdles in reaching the JCC’s goal.

“We believe there are enough people in the community who do believe in the JCC but we’re mindful of what’s going on in the economy,” she said.

The JCC’s executive director, Avi Lewinson, was also optimistic about the campaign.

“I don’t see any reason we can’t get to the goal we set,” he said. “If we have it a month after, I don’t think it’ll delay us at all.”

Lewinson estimated that renovations will take 18 months to complete, but no firm timetable exists yet as a start date has not been decided. When construction does begin, he said, it will take place in phases to allow for continued use of the building.

JoJo Rubach and Pearl Seiden go over the JCC expansion.

“While we’re doing this we’re going to be working with specialists who understand safety is the first priority,” he said. “We really believe we’re going to be able to accommodate our members’ needs while at the same time allowing us to make this progress.”

Karp said he expects bids to start going out to contractors within 60 days. SNS Architects & Engineers of Montvale designed the renovations last year.

Plans include 22,000 square feet of new construction. The preschool and nursery school will be integrated into one area on the first floor; at present, they are spread throughout the building. Parents will be able to use smart cards to gain entry to the new wing, while all others will have to be buzzed through by security. The plan is to create an “early childhood community,” Lewinson said.

“When we did a feasibility study in the beginning, early childhood was really seen as a priority,” he added.

About 650 children are enrolled in early childhood programs, including the nursery school, the therapeutic nursery school, daycare, and the parenting center. More than 300 children attend the JCC’s athletic programs.

A two-story atrium will be built and enhancements made to the youth and teen center. The health and rec center will also receive a new entrance and lobby, and the Seiden Health Center will be updated with an expanded fitness center and locker rooms. In addition to the roughly 2,500 families who belong to the JCC who use the health center, about 420 members have signed up solely for the gym without full JCC memberships.

The School of Performing Arts – which offers classes, workshops, and performance opportunities – will receive increased space, and multipurpose rooms throughout the building will be enlarged to handle more diverse programming.

In addition, the heating and air systems, floors, and power systems will be updated. The entire building will also be enabled with wireless Internet, and cybercafés will be set up throughout. Other upgrades will be made to the building’s computer systems, including new hardware and software to increase efficiency in program registration. At present, the center cannot process registration online; this will no longer be a roadblock after the upgrade.

The facility’s parking lots will not be upgraded, Lewinson noted.

“We are renovating a good part of the building to make it better for everybody,” said JoJo Rubach, chair of the JCC’s building committee. “That allows us to do more of the social services that we are really about,” he added, citing the JCC’s therapeutic nursery school, special needs programs, and services for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

This is the third renovation to the JCC’s Clinton Avenue home since the agency moved there in 1981.

“The idea on this renovation – which will hopefully take us for quite a while forward – was to get it right,” Lewinson said.

The JCC has more than 11,000 members representing more than 2,500 families. Lewinson estimated that an equal number of nonmembers attend the JCC’s concerts, lectures, and other community programming.

Planning for the renovation began in early 2006 when the JCC’s board hired Development Consultants Inc. of Great Neck, N.Y., to conduct a feasibility study that “identified areas of the center that were the most important to our community,” said Rubach.

“We started thinking about what the center would need to be around for the next 50 years,” he said. “We’re always looking to see what’s good about the JCC, what’s bad about it, and try to improve it as a board.”

For more information on the groundbreaking or the campaign, call Karp at (201) 569-7900, ext. 251.


There were some errors in the Sept. 19 cover story on renovations at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

1. The JCC has been processing registrations online for almost one year.

2. The preschool and nursery school will be integrated into two areas, not one, on the first floor.

3. The Standard incorrectly wrote, “In addition to the roughly 2,500 families who belong to the JCC who use the health center about 420 members have signed up solely for the gym without full JCC memberships.” The sentence should have read: “In addition to the roughly 2,500 families who belong to the JCC, 420 of them also belong to the Seiden Health Center and pay an additional fee on top of their membership dues.”

4. While the JCC will not add parking spaces, it will upgrade the parking lot.

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