JCC and city of Walnut Creek break new ground

The Contra Costa Jewish Community Center has extra land, but no funds with which to build a gymnasium. The Walnut Creek city council has funds to build a gym facility, but no land.

So this month, the JCC and the city found common ground.

Walnut Creek's city council voted Tuesday of last week to spend $4.7 million on a new gymnasium — which will be built on land donated by the Jewish community center on Tice Valley Boulevard.

According to JCC executive director Josh Malks, the planned structure will be divided into two gymnasiums by a motorized wall.

This collaboration between the Jewish agency and the city is the first of its kind, says Malks. While half a dozen expansion-minded JCCs across the country have attempted unsuccessfully to join forces with municipal agencies, Malks says this is the first to proceed.

Currently the JCC and city council are negotiating the terms of their partnership.

"We're both going to try very hard to make this work. Frankly, there just isn't enough money in the world anymore for everyone to have their own facilities," he says.

In the face of diminishing allocations from Jewish community federations, Jewish community centers are struggling to offer their members up-to-date amenities. The JCC of San Francisco is struggling to survive, having closed its fitness center and turned to members for financial help. In the East Bay, the Oakland-Piedmont JCC has shut its doors.

Malks hopes this kind of joint venture will be a solution.

When the Contra Costa JCC moved into a former public school and its surrounding property 12 years ago, center directors intended to build a gym on the empty lot south of the site, adjacent to the Rossmoor retirement community. Financial constraints were prohibitive, however.

Finally, with financing from the city, that 110-by-250-foot lot will fulfill its intended purpose. The Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, which actually owns the land, supports the JCC's plan to either donate use of the plot or lease it to the city for $1 a year.

The plot of land is estimated to be worth $189,000, just a fraction of the original price for the entire property, which was bought for $1.8 million.

Not only will this venture provide a state-of-the-art fitness facility for the Jewish community, it will also give city athletes of all ages a much-needed sports center. Kern Hildebrand, leisure services superintendent for the city of Walnut Creek, says volleyball, basketball and other sports teams now only have enough gym time for official league games, "but no time to practice."

Hildebrand says the new gym will also allow the city to meet increasing demands for aerobics and other fitness classes.

According to Gene Wolfe, former Walnut Creek mayor and the city council member pushing hardest for the collaboration, "It's a win/win situation for our capitol and their land to come together."

This year, the Contra Costa JCC raised $1.2 million to renovate the existing buildings. Construction on new parking lots will begin in late August, and Malks says building the proposed gymnasium will take three years.

"It's an outstanding example to me of city/agency cooperation," he says.