JCC Kaiserman Meeting Draws Crowd Anxious About its Future

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Members of the Kaiserman JCC simultaneously expressed their love for — and frustration with — the embattled facility.

Members of the Kaiserman JCC simultaneously expressed their love for — and frustration with — the embattled facility at a meeting held Aug. 24 to discuss its future.
“We are here for one reason only — because of the community, because of the friendships,” said Sharlyn Cohen, a longtime member who lives in Merion Station. “When the pool closed, I gave up swimming. That’s how much I love this place.”
Cohen was one of about 100 members and former members who attended a meeting sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which owns both the land and the building. The JCC is a tenant paying nominal rent but is responsible for the building’s maintenance.
Several Jewish Federation executives were on hand to obtain input from members.
“We’re here to work with you … to understand what is of importance to you,” said Bernard “Bud” Newman, president of the Jewish Federation.
Jewish Federation CEO Naomi Adler noted that no plans are in place, nor are there funds available to make radical changes.
“We need donors to step up,” she said. “There needs to be a community buy-in of the next step.”
It’s been a rough few years for the Kaiserman JCC.
A massive new YMCA opened in nearby Havertown, drawing away some members.
And the JCC’s indoor pool closed Dec. 16, 2013 when staff noticed signs of a buckling ceiling.
The JCC leadership raised more than $400,000 for the renovations, including from the Kaiserman family, and started work on the upgrades. But shortly afterward, those involved with the project learned that the walls had not been built according to code when they were constructed 40 years ago.
Construction was halted immediately, as renovation ceased to be a viable option.
The cost to completely rebuild the pool structure amounted to about $2.3 million — much more than the board of directors had anticipated or raised money for. Instead, the board opted to tear down the walls and convert the pool for outdoor use only at a cost of approximately $500,000.
The JCC has called the pool a “swim club” for the past couple years.
Aside from pool issues, the JCC has dealt with an aging infrastructure, including a leaking roof and bursting pipes.
And to balance the budget, hours were trimmed, especially in the evening. Some hours were later added back, but the fitness center remains unstaffed at those times.
About 20 audience members spoke at the meeting. Some made suggestions, while other asked for openness.
“We want to be told the truth,” Cohen said. “Be honest with us now. We deserve that.”
“From the very beginning, it wasn’t handled in a forthright manner,” said Sue Weintraub, a member since 1978. “The people’s needs were not heard or not communicated.”
Audience member Don Miller, who said he still pays his dues but doesn’t come to the JCC, suggested having the fitness center run as a concession.
Sidney Margulies of Wynnewood asked about moving the JCC to a new building on the campus of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.
“What will best meet the needs of the Jewish community on the Main Line?” he asked.
Others suggested having volunteers assist with the upkeep or bringing in speakers for events with a paid admission. There were calls for improved security as well.
The audience also asked whether attempts had been made to interview those members who had left to determine the main sources of dissatisfaction.
“The majority have left because of having no indoor pool,” said Phyllis Actman, the JCC’s executive director.
Actman said the swim club has about 150 members, and that overall JCC membership numbers have stabilized.
Both JCC and Jewish Federation officials shot down rumors that the JCC would close. Audience members expressed concern that surveyors recently were seen on the campus.
Jerome Nachlis, the Jewish Federation’s chief financial and administrative officer, said the surveyors were not hired by either organization and were checking for potential ground-water contamination from a gas station across the street.
Adler noted that other meetings to discuss the JCC’s future will be scheduled in the coming weeks.
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Andy Gotlieb is the managing editor of the Jewish Exponent. He holds 31 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too. Prior newspaper stops include the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Tampa Tribune and the Philadelphia Business Journal. The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various times, business, politics, crime and government, among other beats. The final 2.5 years in that stretch was an editor at the Philadelphia Business Journal, where my responsibilities included complete control over a weekly section and working with both staff writers and freelancers. In late 2005, I switched gears and began working in public relations for the next decade. I learned the ins and outs of public relations -- including being on the other side of the media-PR equation -- and made numerous contacts. I rejoined the ranks of journalism in March 2016, starting as the managing editor of the Jewish Exponent.

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