Jersey to Get State-of-the-Art JCC

Although the vast exurbs of the Princeton Mercer Bucks region have historically lacked a Jewish infrastructure, a new 80-acre campus to be built in West Windsor, N.J., could come to be the "central address" for the Jewish community in the area.

With plans calling for a 75,000-square-foot structure and considerable outdoor development, the total cost of the Jewish Community Campus of Princeton Mercer Bucks is currently estimated at $28.5 million, according to Paul Schindel, co-chair of the Jewish Community Campus Development Council, which was created solely to oversee the creation of the new facility.

The centerpiece will be the main building, which will house the United Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valley, a branch of the Jewish Family and Children's Service, the Abrams Day Camp and the Jewish Community Foundation. The structure will also feature a fitness center, a Kosher cafe, and lounges for seniors and teens.

The west side of the property will be developed into sports fields, a swimming pool complex, tennis and basketball courts, gaga pits, an archery range and a partially enclosed amphitheater, according to architectural plans.

"Our timeline now has us opening, basically, two years from now," said Schindel. He said the Abrams Day Camp should open on campus in the summer of 2009, while the rest of the facility should be ready by the 2009 High Holidays.

Schindel said that the Jewish Community Campus Development Council, which comes under the umbrella of the Princeton Mercer Bucks Federation, has raised more than $18 million. While he hopes to raise the remaining $10 million in donations, he said the group is prepared to finance 30 percent of the remainder, if necessary.

The campus will replace the JCC building that stood in Ewing, N.J., for more than 50 years before it was sold last year for $8.1 million, said Schindel. In an effort to develop the Jewish campus, the Federation bought the undeveloped land on Clarksville Road in Princeton Junction for $3.1 million in December of 2005, according to news reports.

"We see this really as an opportunity to expand the Jewish universe throughout our region because we've been without a state of the art JCC for a while," said Schindel. "Having a state of the art JCC will be a magnet for families coming into the area."

Schindel said the location chosen was a response to changing Jewish demographics in the region.

"[The campus] is following a population shift away from Ewing and a more urban setting," he said. People are moving north and east, he added, to suburbs like Yardley, Pa., Pennington, N.J., Princeton and West Windsor.

In the coming years, there are plans to add Greenwood House to the campus. This non-profit senior facility, which provides assisted-living and nursing-home care, is currently located in Ewing, and there's no timetable yet on moving the facility. But Schindel said current plans have left a large portion of the property's east side undeveloped, in the hopes of adding the complex.

Drew Staffenberg, executive director of the Jewish Community Campus Development Council, said that a security consultant has been hired and security cards will eventually be issued, but claimed that there are no plans now for security guards or a fence.

In a recent interview, West Windsor mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh touted the campus' openness to people from all walks of life.

"Overall, a JCC is open for the whole community," he said. "It doesn't matter what religion they are. This is a community of diversity."

The development council has been working to get final approval from West Windsor Township. One hurdle they will not have to pass is rezoning the property, as it's already designated for "recreation, office and research," according to township engineer Jim Parvesse.

Schindel explained that full approval of the overall plan should come by the end of 2007, followed by several months needed to get a building permit, and about 14 to 16 months for construction.

The Abrams Day Camp, which spent 43 years at the JCC in Ewing, will be held at Rider University until the campus is ready. Day camp director Sue Millstein-Weiner said that once the final move to West Windsor occurs, she expects enrollment to increase from its current count of 250.

Schindel hopes that the campus will attract new families to the area, as well as help unite a community that covers a considerable expanse.

"So many families, wherever they're from, when they're looking for a place to move, one of the first questions is, 'Is there a JCC there? Is there Jewish life there?' " he said. "And we'll now be able to answer that with a very positive facility that offers the full range of communal activities."


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