New Peninsula JCC ready to open with 4,000 members

Judy Edelson has a hard hat in her office. A screaming pink hard hat.

The executive director of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center keeps it handy as long as construction continues on the 70,000-square-foot, $47 million structure that houses the new PJCC.

The two-story 12-acre complex in Foster City will open for business Monday, May 24, with little fanfare, though a huge community celebration is set for the fall.

Meanwhile, masons are still on their knees laying the Jerusalem stone flooring; other workmen traipse about, their tool belts jangling like sleigh bells.

They’re in hurry-up mode to finish what will be one of the crown jewels of the South Bay Jewish community.

With its sprawling design and palm tree-lined exterior, the new PJCC brings a touch of Desert Hot Springs to the North Peninsula. It features three pools (indoor, outdoor and kiddie), a 50,000-square-foot athletic center, the Koret Learning Center with scores of classrooms, a preschool, a youth and teen center, plus a fabulous view of the hills of San Mateo County.

And that’s just Phase I.

Edelson must be doing something right. Nearly 4,000 people have now joined the membership rolls, which bodes well for the long-term success of the facility.

“Our motto is ‘Welcome everyone with joy,'” says the relentlessly upbeat Edelson, a 20-year veteran administrator with the PJCC. “We want this to be the central address for the local Jewish community.”

To bring that about, donors, board members and staff launched their visionary capital improvement campaign about 10 years ago. After acquiring the property along Foster City Boulevard, donors stepped up, including 17 who gave $500,000 or more.

Business Wire founder Lorry Lokey served as lead donor, giving $11 million toward construction. “It’s wonderful to see this happening,” he says, “because the JCC now becomes the focal point for the community.”

Others like the Koret Foundation, the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and Allan Byer (for whom the athletic center is named) also gave sizeable gifts. Architect Rodney Friedman of Fisher-Friedman then designed an airy space with broad lawns and ocher-colored sandstone buildings decorated with Jerusalem stone facing and flooring.

It isn’t all about brick and mortar, however. The staff similarly grew to accommodate expanded programming. On board to run the athletics program is Anita Kaplan, a former star center for Stanford’s women’s basketball team in the 1990s, a Goodwill Games gold medalist and a professional player in the former American Basketball League.

Kaplan is planning a broad array of team sports, fitness classes, aquatics and more. All or most of the activities will fit in the Byer Athletic Center, which includes fleets of stationary bikes and treadmills, saunas, pools and an NCAA regulation indoor basketball court.

Program director Todd Braman, a seven-year veteran of the PJCC, looks forward to implementing the new Koret Learning Center and its many state-of-the-art classrooms.

“The old site was severely limited,” says Braman of the PJCC’s Belmont location. “We had good senior and family programs but very little for adults.”

Those days are over. Braman points to an overhauled adult programming schedule, which now includes lecture series, comprehensive Judaic studies, art and ceramics classes and a computer lab. PJCC is also teaming with Jewish Vocational Service, the Israel Center, Lehrhaus Judaica and others to create additional programming.

Out on a back patio strewn with electrical wire and rolls of insulation, employees gather for a catered lunch (Domino’s Pizza and Coke), courtesy of PJCC management. It’s a small token of appreciation for the their tireless work preparing for opening day. “These are not 9-to-5 jobs,” says an admiring Edelson of her staff. “They’re working nights, weekends. It’s not just a job; it’s a lifestyle choice.”

Foster City isn’t the only local JCC with big plans. Just down Highway 101, leaders of the Albert L. Schultz JCC in Palo Alto are planning a renaissance of their own. They acquired an eight-acre lot on which to build a Campus for Jewish Life, housing a new JCC, a Jewish Home and regional offices of key Jewish agencies. The capital campaign is not yet under way, and completion is still several years in the future.

And of course, the San Francisco JCC opened its glittering new $60 million home base earlier this year to great pomp and circumstance.

Back at PJCC, Edelson and her colleagues have more ambitious plans on the drawing board. Phase II of the project, slated for completion in 2008, centers on construction of an $8 million, 450-seat cultural center. In Phase III, the preschool and youth center, now housed in temporary modular structures, will be replaced with all new permanent facilities. That’s due in 2015, and so far the funds for Phases II and III aren’t in the kitty yet.

However, Edelson remains unfazed by the challenges of next two phases.

“People are looking for real meaning and depth in their lives,” she says. “Right now there is a renaissance of Jewish life in the JCCs, and we’re working very hard, with passion and commitment, to create wonderful Jewish memories for people.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.