JCC hopes to get clearer picture of its future in Palo Alto

A meeting in Palo Alto next week will shine some light on the question: Where will the future home of the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center be located?

The Palo Alto Unified School District — eager to grab the JCC's current site for a new middle school — will publicly unveil four or five proposals for solving what has become a sticky political conundrum.

The proposals, however, won't provide a concrete resolution, nor will they quell debate on the issue.

"Every single one of these proposals has a major problem," said Palo Alto City Council members Judy Kleinberg, who serves on an ad hoc committee looking desperately for a resolution.

"Not one of them is a clean deal, which is why it has taken so long to get where we are — which is virtually nowhere."

Responding to rising enrollments, Palo Alto school officials pinpointed the need for a third middle school more than a year ago. They want the school ready by 2003.

After much exploration, the best site was deemed to be the former home of Terman Junior High, which the JCC has leased from the city and called home for the past 17 years.

However, that decision launched a linear accelerator of question marks.

The school board doesn't want to hastily throw the JCC out on the street, but an ideal new site for the JCC in property-starved Palo Alto has yet to be found.

Moreover, the JCC, although willing to construct a new building that would probably cost about $40 million, has been reluctant to give up its Arastradero Road home without a fight.

With seven years left on its lease, the JCC has hired a land-use attorney in case the school district tries to make a legal play for the site through eminent domain.

"Our mantra has been, 'We defend our right to stay here,'" said Sandy Blovad, executive director of the ALSJCC. "But we are willing to look at other possibilities as long as they meet the physical and program needs of the center — any plan that keeps the JCC whole and results in no interruption of service."

A handful of plans have been floated, but none has been formally introduced.

That will occur at Tuesday's meeting, scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the district offices at 25 Churchill Ave. Each proposal will include an associated timeline and cost.

After the presentation, members of the public will be allotted time to respond.

In two or three months, the school board is expected to finally move things forward by voting on a course of action.

"Things seem to be at a log jam," said Cathy Kroymann, school board president. "The school district really needs a resolution to this if we're going to have a permanent school available by 2003…If we don't get going [by] this fall, we're not going to make it."

Where the JCC lands is anybody's guess.

One of the school board's latest proposals calls for the JCC and the new middle school to share the 17-acre Terman site.

The JCC would pay for and construct a new building on what is now a soccer field. The existing facility would be razed and replaced with a two-story middle school.

This plan is attracting a lot of interest. The district gets the middle school at the location it wants and the JCC gets to stay put.

Moreover, the district doesn't have to turn over any valuable land to the JCC, an element of other proposals receiving widespread criticism.

One likely proponent of this plan is the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School, a JCC neighbor that doesn't want its relationship with the JCC torn asunder.

"We would certainly love the JCC to stay next door," said Ellen Brown, president of the Mid-Peninsula board. "But I haven't seen enough of the plan. Details have been sketchy. And if it doesn't meet the JCC's needs, then it's not a great proposal."

To Kleinberg, "As nice as an option as it would be, and it does satisfy a lot of concerns, it might create worse problems, especially the intensification of traffic in the neighborhood and on the school site."

Blovad played it cool when asked about the plan. "Since we have history at this location, if it meets all our program and space needs, it would be something we would absolutely consider," he said.

But Blovad didn't dismiss other proposals, such as one in which the JCC pays for the construction of a new building at the corner of Churchill Avenue and El Camino Real, the site of the current district offices.

Critics of that plan don't want the district giving up valuable land. There is also concern about where to relocate the district offices.

Another possibility being bandied about involves the city acquiring land from the Elks Club and leasing it to the JCC.

This plan, apparently, is the focus of the City Council's ad hoc committee; Kleinberg called it her "favorite."

There is also talk about a new JCC being built on Palo Alto land that might be acquired from the Hyatt hotel chain.

Kleinberg praised Blovad for making sure the JCC's interests were understood by the city and school district.

Blovad, in turn, said, "We appreciate everyone trying to meet the needs of the JCC."

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Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.