$50 million facility to replace JCC in S.F. in 2003

It is expected to open in 2003 at a cost of $50 million for construction and $20 million in additional expenses. More than $45 million already has been raised.

An architect's model of the proposed facility, which will almost double the current space, shows a Judaica book and gift store and a glass-front restaurant facing California Street. The building's facade shows slate-blue tile set off by ochre brick and Jerusalem stone.

Inside, the three-story edifice will include a glass-roofed atrium lobby, six-lane lap pool and 181-space subterranean parking garage. Half the facility will actually be underground.

If the JCC clears all the hurdles in the city process, including environmental impact and planning board approval, the current building at the corner of California Street and Presidio Avenue will be torn down starting in the fall of 2001. It is estimated the new center will open 18 to 24 months later.

"A Jewish community center is the heart and soul of the community — especially in San Francisco, where there no longer really is a Jewish neighborhood," said Howard Fine, JCC board president. "The JCC is the Jewish neighborhood."

But the neighborhood has grown larger than its current borders allow.

Concerned that the California Street facility was run-down, inadequate and too expensive to renovate, the JCC board turned to an architectural team that includes Gensler and Associates of San Francisco and the Steinberg Group of San Jose.

What resulted was a building that would cost $50 million. That figure includes architectural fees, permits and an environmental impact report as well as labor and materials, said Gale Mondry, immediate past president and co-chair of the JCC's capital campaign.

Another $20 million will go to added staffing, including program planners, a $7 million endowment, and the costs of moving out and moving in — twice.

Mondry and co-chair Bernard Osher already have landed $45.5 million in early contributions from the board members and 15 other individuals.

For the time being, "we're focusing on the seven-figure donors," Mondry said. Contributions to date include gifts of $1 million to $10 million.

Various programs and endowments may be named after donors, but the building will remain the Jewish Community Center of S.F. by unanimous decree of the JCC board.

"We really felt it's been the JCC of San Francisco for generations, and that people need to know it will not become a private facility," said Nate Levine, the executive director. "It belongs to the community."

To raise more grassroots dollars, the board is sponsoring a comedy fund-raiser featuring Alan King and the Comedy Channel's Jeffrey Ross on Saturday, May 13.

Mondry, whose 18-year-old son learned to swim at the JCC, said the new facility will reflect its users' needs: a sport complex, a 500-seat theater, an independently operated book store and a restaurant, which will open onto Presidio Avenue and into the building interior.

It will also feature kosher kitchens, so the JCC can continue making daily meals for seniors and others.

Roughly 4,000 people use the facility, according to Levine. More than half are Jewish.

Levine declined to say how much the membership is expected to increase. The board deliberately kept the numbers low in its financial projections.

Levine knows the facility well: He took on his first job there 21 years ago, handing out towels in the old "basket room." He said the board has grappled with escalating needs over the past 10 years, and spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on consulting fees, drawings and a 1997 market study conducted by Harder and Co.

The two architectural firms in the design team have been behind a number of local projects. Gensler's include the first and second expansions of the Moscone Center and the renovation of the Geary Theater, both in San Francisco, as well as Oracle's Redwood City campus. Steinberg has worked primarily on community centers.

While construction is under way, it will be business as usual for the JCC, although the programs will be scattered in a citywide diaspora.

The Claude and Louise Rosenberg Child Care Center will stay right where it is: The preschool is housed in the adjacent Menorah Park.

"We'll do the heavy construction part when school is not in session," said Fine.

The board's transition team is also exploring short-term rentals at the Presidio and properties owned by the National Historic Trust. Sports teams will continue to use city parks, and classes may be held at local synagogues or at agencies with whom the JCC already has program partnerships.

"We'll have to rent multiple spaces during construction," Mondry said. "It will be a complicated project. Is it worth it? Sure it's worth it."

The existing building has only 73,000 square feet. However, the new design will reclaim square footage that is currently being used by Jewish Family and Children's Services' programs, which will be relocating to the Goldman Institute building on Geary Boulevard.

The new space will include:

*A swimming pool for people with special needs, with shallow, warm water, in addition to a 25-yard lap pool.

*Separate music, art and dance studios.

*A Jewish Resource Center, which will form the nucleus of the adult learning program.

*A rooftop playground for older children. "That's where we'll build our sukkah," Levine said.

*A state-of-the-art fitness complex, including child care, gym, and a wellness center with health resources, classes and monitoring equipment.

The new building will be connected to the Menorah Park senior residence, its neighbor to the north, so those who live there can continue to enter the building easily.

The new course is the culmination of three years of planning that began when reports of a financial crisis surfaced. In fact, so severe was the crisis that the center's demise seemed inevitable. It faced a yearly operating deficit that topped $1 million. But Levine said the current board has struggled to reverse the grim fiscal direction.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation helped smooth the transition with a "bridge loan" of $3.5 million from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund. Levine said the loan has been repaid in full.

Subcontracting its sports facility to Pinnacle Fitness has been a key part of the JCC's current success.

"They have been instrumental of the growth of the past three years," Levine said.

As another means of raising revenue, the board is looking to "a restaurant with an entrance on the street and into the interior, one with a warm, inviting atmosphere," to draw in another part of the community. Past efforts failed partly because "they didn't have a street presence," Levine said.

"We are looking not just at our program needs, which are very diverse, but our survival economically," he said.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.