Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 10
 
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
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Proposed Jewish Campus Project Becoming an Eighty-Acre Reality

Ellen Gilbert

“Between 16,000 and 20,000 Jewish people live in the Princeton-Mercer-Bucks area,” notes the website for the area Jewish Community Campus (JCC) that will open, if all goes as planned, in West Windsor by the end of 2009.

If this is news to you, you are not alone. “The Jewish community in the Princeton-Mercer-Bucks region is fragmented and decentralized,” the website (www.jccampus.org) goes on to say. “Only 50 percent of area Jews belong to one of the more than 20 area synagogues; the remaining population remains unaffiliated and largely unidentified, left to waver or assimilate.”

Eight years in the making (the average national time to create similar centers is ten years), the JCC is a project of the area’s United Federation office (an offshoot of Jewish Federation), that its creators hope will put an end to the perceived fragmentation of the local Jewish community. “The JCC will be a hub of activity for families from the Princeton/Mercer/Bucks region,” said Paul Schindel, co-chair of the campus’s development council. “The programs of the JCC and the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Greater Mercer County (currently located on Alexander Road) will be beneficial to families with and without children, as well as to preteens, teens, and senior adults.”

Comprising 81 acres of land on Clarksville Road, the JCC site has been approved for development by West Windsor and Mercer County and is now “in the design development stage,” according to Campus Development Council Executive Director Drew Staffenberg. He hopes they will have a building permit by “late summer or early fall.” Perkins Eastman of New York City has been chosen as architect for facilities that will include classrooms, meeting rooms, a kosher cafe and kitchen, a fitness facility, an indoor pool, an outdoor amphitheater, and approximately 20 acres of creational areas and campgrounds. Constanza Contracting of Cherry Hill has gotten the nod as contractor.

The campus’s cultural, recreational, social, and educational activities will be “available to one and all,” said Mr. Schindel, who president and creative director of Three Bears Communications on Nassau Street. “With day care, summer camps, a physical fitness center, lunch for seniors, it will be both inclusive and comprehensive in its ability to meet the community’s needs.”

The campus’s leadership has conducted a “conservative and responsible” financial campaign, according to Mr. Staffenberg. Over 70 percent of the $28.5 million anticipated cost for this “Jewish downtown” has already been raised. Opting out of the major fund-raising gala route, the council has relied instead on individual donations. “We’re counting on people in the community to come forward and support the project at whatever level they can,” Mr. Schindel said. “Every gift is important and appreciated and acknowledged.” “Naming” opportunities are available at all levels, he noted, from a brick or a plaque, to an entire building. “The thing that excites me about this project is that everyone can get involved,” observed Mr. Staffenberg. “It’s not for ‘someone else.’ If people gave just a dollar a day for three years, it would work.”

The back story to the JCC includes the Ewing Jewish Community Center, which was opened in 1961 and closed in the summer of 2006. Its popular summer camp offerings were relocated to Rider College, where over 330 children — rather than the anticipated 140 — signed up last summer. The camps, Abrams Day Camp, Teen Travel, Sleepaway Camp, and “Specialty Weeks,” will return to Rider for summer 2008.

Looking ahead, Mr. Staffenberg said that “phase two” plans for the campus include a senior living facility which will include independent living, as well as assisted and nursing care arrangements. A possible collaboration with Greenwood House, a nonprofit organization providing senior care in Ewing, is under discussion.

As for “phase one,” Mr. Staffenberg said, “It’s going to happen.”

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