JCCs new board president looks forward to big move

Carol Saal knows better than anyone that the Albert L. Schultz JCC's impending move and the construction of a new home will not pay for themselves. On the bright side, however, the JCC just inked a deal obtaining a virtually rent-free interim site.

"My top priority is to find a suitable location for a permanent home for the JCC, that goes without saying," said Saal, a veteran fund-raiser and volunteer in the Jewish community who was recently named president of the Palo Alto JCC board of directors. "When you've got so much money to raise, you can't have too many bodies working on it."

The construction of a new facility — which Saal hopes will be completed by 2007 — could run as high as $60 to 70 million.

In her first month at the helm, the Palo Alto resident has taken steps to "reconfigure the board," hoping to make the body a more active and involved one.

She also hopes to strengthen the JCC's relationship with local federations, Hillels and synagogues.

Her top priority, though, is the JCC's planned move. Saal envisions a fund-raising "triumvirate" configured of herself, outgoing executive director Sandy Blovad and the center's-yet-to-be-named new executive director.

The fund-raising goal represents "a major new level for this community," she said. "And that's not an easy task in this economic environment. Silicon Valley's downturn is really going to make this more of a challenge than we expected."

While the task of finding a permanent site for a new facility remains a daunting one, Saal and the JCC placed a very important piece in the puzzle last week, signing a settlement agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District regarding a temporary location for the center.

Agreeing to vacate its current Arastradero site by September of 2002 to make way for a middle school, the JCC will relocate roughly two-and-a-half miles down the road to the "Greendell/Cubberley site," owned by the school district. Some of the more pertinent points of the agreement include:

*The school district will pay just over $3.4 million for upgrades the JCC has made to the Arastradero Road site and for moving costs;

*The JCC will have use of four permanent classrooms on the Greendell site, and the school district will provide nine portable classrooms as well;

*The JCC may stay up to eight years without paying rent on the Greendell portion of the site. The JCC will pay an "extremely small" rent on the adjacent Cubberly site, according to Blovad.

Both parcels are owned by the school district. The Cubberly site, however, is leased to the city of Palo Alto. The JCC is currently negotiating with the city to obtain a sublease.

"We have a date we have to be in there [the Arastradero Road site]," said John Tuomy, the school board president. "If we couldn't do it this way, we would have had to go to eminent domain. That might have cost us less money, but, in the long run, it's better for the community to have a friendly settlement."

Blovad, meanwhile, pointed out that, as far as temporary sites go, this is a pretty good one.

"The major benefit this [settlement agreement] gives us is it does not result in any interruption of service. While exploring the possibility of securing a new home, we have security at the Greendell/Cubberley site," he said. "The best part of the site is it's contiguous. Our site…will all be on one contiguous site."

Saal, with less than six months on the JCC board, was surprised to learn that the nominating committee was seriously interested in having her serve as board president.

To others, though, she was an obvious choice.

"Although Carol did not have an extensive period of time on the board, she certainly has been close to the JCC and involved in Jewish communal work for years, a leader in the community and already well-known and well-thought of," explained JCC nominating committee head Les Burger.

"Past leadership experience in the Jewish community, experience in the local community, fund-raising ability, and organizational skills were all criteria we looked at, and then we looked for an individual to fit those criteria."

When Saal chaired the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's annual fund-raising campaign, the organization raised a record-breaking $19.8 million and $20.5 million in 1997 and '98, respectively.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.