New Orleans JCC doing campaign for major Uptown expansion

The New Orleans Jewish Community Center is embarking on a capital campaign to fund a major expansion and renovation of its Uptown facility.

“It’s because of the demands of the community,” JCC Executive Director Leslie Fischman said. “Our nursery school is capacity, our camp is past capacity, our fitness center is capacity, our swimming pool is outdated.”

“Building for the Next Generation” has raised $5 million in the preliminary phase, with a goal of at least $8 million. Part of the campaign is an endowment component.

With Jefferson Avenue repairs next to the building scheduled to be completed in mid-summer, construction on the JCC is expected to begin in fall 2016, the 50th anniversary of the current building.

The first major renovation of the Uptown building since 1997 will add about 16,000 square feet to the facility, expanding down the Leontine Street side.

Two new classrooms will enable expansion of the preschool and its “significant” waiting list, and the rooms will also be used for an expansion of the day camp. There will also be two new youth activity spaces.

Additional space will also be dedicated to the Alzheimer’s Care and Enrichment program.

A cornerstone gift has been made by the Oscar Tolmas Charitable Foundation. The $1.5 million commitment will lead to the naming of the Oscar J. Tolmas Aquatics Complex.

The complex will have two outdoor pools — a 25-meter, 6-lane lap pool, and a family recreational pool with water features. There will be new men’s, women’s and family locker rooms.

There will also be an indoor heated pool for hydrotherapy and teaching.

The fitness facilities will include a dedicated yoga and Pilates studio, and a dedicated indoor cycling studio. Currently, the programs have to alternate and share space.

There will also be an enhanced and enlarged personal training studio, and 2,500 square feet of cardiovascular space, along with new massage studios.

Fischman said the expansion will serve all ages, from children to the more physically active Baby Boomer generation to the elderly. “There’s something for everybody.”

The Jewish Community Center is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year, having been formed as the Young Men’s Hebrew and Literary Society in 1855.

In 1891, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association was formed by members of the Harmony Club, and the first building, the Athenaeum, was completed in 1895 on the corner of St. Charles and Clio.

After a fire destroyed the building, it was rebuilt at the same site and renamed the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association. After another fire eight years later, the decision was made to relocate to the Jewish Children’s Home.

The Home was established in 1856, and in 1887 it moved to a new building on St. Charles, designed by Thomas Sully. After World War II, orphanages across the country closed. In November 1946 the Jewish Children’s Home closed as a residential institution, becoming a regional social service agency.

The Home was sold to the JCC in July 1948 as the Home continued its transition into what is now the Jewish Children’s Regional Service. Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans also was created when the Home closed, becoming a separate organization in 1976.

When the JCC moved in, the Home’s third floor was removed because it was in bad repair. In 1966, the Home was demolished and replaced by the current JCC building. A $4 million upgrade was completed in 1998.

In 1986, with community migration to Metairie, a satellite location was established. In January 2003, the larger Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus opened on West Esplanade.

After Katrina, the Metairie location was closed for several months as repairs were made. The Uptown JCC had minor flooding and was able to reopen its fitness area after seven weeks. The front of the building was used as a base of operations for FEMA.