JCC: We will defend our interests

Publication Date: Wednesday May 10, 2000

COMMUNITY: JCC: We will defend our interests

Center wants to avoid legal proceedings but wants a new home, no break in service

by Charlie Breitrose

The Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center is in the middle of a game of musical chairs, and Sandy Blovad, executive director of the JCC, wants to make sure his organization has a place to land when the music stops.

Late last week, Blovad released an official statement concerning the Terman negotiations and the future of the JCC:

"The JCC is a vital Palo Alto-based community resource. Its survival is essential. The JCC will aggressively defend its right to remain at Terman, unless a suitable alternate site is secured. A successful resolution must ensure the JCC is kept whole with no interruption in services."

The JCC does not want to get into a legal battle, Blovad emphasized, but he says the organization must protect itself.

The Terman Community Center, the JCC's current home, is being eyed by the school district as a third middle school. School officials have said the JCC won't be left homeless. One idea would be moving to the present site of the school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. Negotiations between the school district and the city--which owns the Terman site--and the JCC continue, but no contracts have been signed.

"It's not like we are threatening anybody," Blovad said. "It's in nobody's best interest to get into eminent domain proceedings.

"(But) if it is our only option, we'll use it."

Eminent domain is the process government agencies employ to take land for public use. The government body must compensate the owner of the property for their loss.

For more than 17 years, the JCC has served the local Jewish community and Palo Alto as a whole from the Terman site. The JCC began renting the former Terman Junior High School from the city in 1983, five years after the school closed.

Blovad says no other organization serves as broad a range of people in Palo Alto.

"I don't know of any other community organization that serves people literally from cradle to the grave, and every age in between," Blovad said.

At Terman, the JCC runs a preschool program, after school day care, a teen center, as well as adult and senior programs. The JCC offers classes and services for Russian emigres, and has a health and fitness center complete with a pool and a gym.

Nonmembers can participate in the bridge games, which is popular with seniors. Kids can play in the basketball, volleyball and fencing programs held at the JCC. The Cardiac Therapy Foundation runs an exercise and education program at the JCC to help people with coronary artery or pulmonary disease.

Blovad said if the JCC moves to the district office site on Churchill Avenue, he would like to add even more community services. There are plans to build a theater at the JCC, a facility that could be shared with Palo Alto High School, which sits next to the 25 Churchill site. This would help the school, which would like to refurbish the Haymarket Theater, but found the cost too prohibitive.

In discussions with the school district, other ideas have been floated, including a day-care center for the children of Palo Alto teachers, rooms that could be used by the Palo Alto Adult School, and a gym that could help address the shortage of basketball courts in the city.

School board president Cathy Kroymann said that for the school district to lease its land to the JCC, the district would want to have as much shared use as possible.

"If the school district gives up that site we need to get as much for the school district as we can," Kroymann said. "And the JCC has indicated an interest in doing that."

Superintendent Don Phillips said the district will also look to replace city services displaced by taking over the school. They would try to keep some services, like the library, in southwest Palo Alto. Other services, such as the Cardiac Therapy Foundation, could be kept with the JCC, or moved to another site, Phillips said.

Progress on coming up with a solution for all parties has stalled recently. Kroymann said the transition between city managers -- from June Fleming to Frank Benest -- has slowed things, but that should soon change. "I feel like we are going to get on a fast track," Kroymann said.

The City Council and the school board have arranged a joint meeting to discuss Terman, and the future of other public facilities on May 30.

The district also just hired Pacific Relocation Group, a relocation consultancy, to help the JCC in its move. Phillips said assisting the JCC to relocate is one of the obligations under the eminent domain proceedings.

The JCC has yet to find an alternative site to the Churchill site, Blovad said.

While there is at least one possible site for the JCC, the timeline may be a more difficult hurdle. The district wants to open the third middle school by the fall of 2003, after two years at the Garland school site.

Three years is not a long time when city and state bureaucracies must be navigated. The school district has to turn the site back into a school, while the JCC would have to demolish the district offices and build a new center from scratch.

Even renovations of schools must be approved by the state, which can take nine months to a year, Kroymann estimates. Ideally, the school would be renovated before the students set foot on campus, but this might take a year.

"Ideally we'd remodel it before schools starts," Kroymann said. "If not, we would have the same situation as JLS and Jordan (middle schools) where we put up portables and renovate a wing at a time."

In spite of their strong position, Blovad seems confident that things will work out for the JCC.

"Since 1965, we have served tens of thousands of people," Blovad said. "We look forward to continue that for many further generations." 

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