Execs $6 million gift propels new PJCC campus

A $6 million donation from Atherton businessman Lorry Lokey has given a giant boost to the capital campaign for the Peninsula Jewish Community Center's new Foster City campus.

Lokey's donation brings the campaign's total to $13.4 million. In addition, the PJCC expects to receive $4 million to $5 million from the sale of its current real estate holdings.

That brings the PJCC a big step closer to breaking ground on the massive, state-of-the-art Jewish campus it began planning over two years ago.

The step wouldn't have been possible without Lokey — who originally planned to donate about $100,000 to the campaign.

"Normally I don't care for [funding] bricks and mortar. I prefer endowments and scholarships," said the philanthropist, who is CEO of Business Wire, a financial news wire service. But he decided to increase his gift when told the campus could not break ground until it had raised three-quarters of its $20 million goal.

"They barely had half," said Lokey, a former PJCC board member. "It was clear that nothing would happen unless they got a substantial donation."

Lokey received another prompt from closer to home. His life partner Joanne Harrington had taken a course in antique-collecting 10 years ago at the PJCC and had fond memories of the time she'd spent there. "When I said that I was planning to give them $100,000 for the building, she got a little uptight," Lokey recalled. "She said, 'Can't you do more?'"

Lokey's gift joins other large donations from the capital campaign's co-chairs, Allan Byer and Ron Wornick. With the new Jewish campus in place, said Wornick, the 40,000-strong Peninsula Jewish community will "begin to look like the [pre-war] Vilna that we dream of replicating, and hopefully will be as impactful."

In fact, the project may end up costing closer to $28 million. "There's a lot to consider besides the hard costs of building the facility," said Judy Edelson, the PJCC's executive director. "We have all of our planning, development and transition costs. But the important thing is that we can now go forward."

In addition to housing the PJCC, the campus will provide a home for the Jewish Day School of the Northern Peninsula, the PJCC's preschool and other Jewish organizations. As part of its land-leasing agreement, it will also offer discounted fitness memberships to Foster City residents.

Lokey sees the Foster City campus as a place that will encourage interfaith dialogue by bringing members of the wider community into a Jewish space.

"This is a place for the community that will potentially attract about 8,000 people, not all of whom will be Jewish," said Lokey. "There's the possibility for a tremendous blending of cultures and a reduction of friction."

Edelson said that she was looking forward to the next phase of development on the campus.

"We've hired a general contractor, and we hope to be able to break ground next spring," she said.

"If our fund-raising keeps going, we'll be able to open in July 2001, about a year ahead of our original projection."

Lokey was happy to play his part in moving the project forward. In the past, he has endowed several chairs at Stanford University, and has donated more than $8 million to the Leo Baeck School in Haifa. He has also given substantially to Santa Clara University, a Catholic school that he calls "a secret little commodity down on the Peninsula."

The $6 million gift comes at a crucial time for the Jewish Day School of the Northern Peninsula, which will move into custom-designed portable classrooms on the new campus in September.

Until this year, the school had been leasing an unused public school building in San Mateo. That lease, which had been extended for a number of years, is due to expire in June.

"For us, moving became the most dire necessity," said principal Mervyn Danker.

The unaffiliated day school currently serves around 95 students, and will expand in its new location. "There are thoughts of a middle school," said Danker. "It's an exciting new era in the school's history."

The day school will be joined by the PJCC preschool, which already has enrolled 50 students for the 1999-2000 school year.

"We're hearing interest from people who live as far afield as Berkeley and San Francisco and who work on the Peninsula," said Edelson. "That's very gratifying."

"We're excited about being able to provide a much-needed service for the community," said Judy Garb, the PJCC preschool's director.

Even though the permanent school building won't be finished until 2001, said Danker, "we'll probably be so comfortable and happy [in the portables] that when the time comes to move into a permanent structure we'll be sorry to leave."

"Previously, we haven't been able to satisfy all the parents on our waiting list," said Garb. "Being on the interim site will give us a chance to enhance our visibility and build a reputation in Foster City."

As far as Lokey is concerned, he didn't need the $6 million anyway.

"It was just lying around and gathering dust," he said.

"Wealth is not my idea of a good time — I don't intend to kick the bucket and leave umpteen millions just sitting around."