Out of the rubble comes new JCC for Silicon Valley

On April Fools Day, vibrant cheers ushered in a countdown almost as loud as the bulldozer itself. As powerful jaws tore down walls and shattered the old windows of the 40-year-old Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos, the dream of a new building came that much closer to reality.

It was a long time in the making, said Ruth Fletcher, president of the center.

The old building made it “hard to attract people” to sign up for membership, she said. The new Gloria and Ken Levy Family Campus seems to be changing that already. While the new facility isn’t expected to open its doors to the public until 2005, Fletcher said she expects almost 200 new members by the end of June.

While community dignitaries observed the groundbreaking from a distance, eight preschoolers got down and dirty to help. Each child was given a brightly colored hardhat and a miniature shovel for the job.

“I’m happy because I like to dig,” said 5-year old Rachel Kulakofsky, who has attended pre-school at the Los Gatos JCC for three years.

The glee echoed with older participants, as well.

“I’m just excited to see us tear down this dilapidated building,” said Brett Borah, the new landlord and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose.

The now-destroyed building at 14855 Oka Road had a colorful history. For nearly 20 years, it housed an elementary school for more than 10,000 students. In the early 1980s, it served as the regional headquarters in California’s battle against the Mediterranean fruit fly. Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the building was also used as Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters.

The nine-acre Family Campus will link existing elements to future renovation. The existing preschool, for example, will expand the current number of classrooms and welcome a new addition, the Yavneh Day School. Likewise, the campus will house a new gym, teen and senior centers and even a community mikvah.

One of the facility’s most eye-opening features will be a 500-seat performing arts theater. Entertainment, however, isn’t the same without food, and so the new campus will include a full kitchen and café.

The Gloria and Ken Levy Family Campus will ideally serve as a cultural, educational and social hub for the 450,000 Jews who live in the Silicon Valley, officials said. To Borah, the most rewarding aspect of the project is “interacting with members of the community and seeing the progress we made as a community” at the end of the day.