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Jewish Journal

Phoenix Rises - Milken JCC Readies for Big Splash

by Tom Tugend

March 25, 2009 | 10:15 pm

<i>The New JCC at Milken in West Hills</i>

The New JCC at Milken in West Hills

The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which was damaged but not destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has survived another peril and is looking toward a brighter future and a recovery of lost members.

Negotiators for the Jewish Community Center at the Bernard Milken Community Campus and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles confirmed Monday that they had reached full agreement, following nearly two years of frequently tense discussions.

The agreement’s key provision calls for a cost-sharing arrangement in the future operation of the four-acre Milken campus, which, besides the JCC and its recreational facilities, also houses offices of The Federation and its agencies.

Starting in 2010, the JCC will pay a rising percentage of the Milken campus budget, hitherto borne entirely by The Federation, leveling off at 65 percent by 2013. Projections for the total annual budget range from “well over $1 million” to $1.6 million.

Steve Rheuban, chairman of the Milken JCC board, and Richard Sandler, The Federation vice chairman, both declared the agreement a win-win solution.

The Federation, which owns the campus property, will be relieved of much of its financial burden.

The Milken JCC, in turn, is assured of its continuing tenancy as the “primary occupant” of the campus, as long as it pays its share of the cost, and can plan for the future on that basis.

Perhaps no one welcomes the resolution with greater joy than the young campers and the mature seniors who have been deprived of the JCC’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, shut down two years ago during an impasse between the two sides.

Following reconstruction of some of the facilities, the pool is scheduled to open in the early summer, said Paul Frishman, the JCC executive director.

When that happy day arrives, it will also reverse the precipitous decline in JCC membership, Rheuban hopes.

With the closing of the pool and uncertainty about JCC’s future, membership dropped from a peak of 1,500 to a current figure of 350, he said. In parallel, nursery school enrollment dropped from 125 to 70.

The roots of the Milken JCC go back to the West Valley JCC, which was founded in 1969 and bought the Milken campus, then a horse ranch, in 1976.

Subsequently, the site was deeded to The Jewish Federation, which put up $15 million to build up the campus, completed in 1987, and came up with additional funds to restore the buildings after the 1994 earthquake.

At one point, the protracted negotiations seemed near a breakdown, when the JCC was facing a $250,000 deficit but rejected a one-time bailout offer of $350,000 from The Federation.

Both JCC leaders and members balked at a condition of the bailout that they would have to surrender JCC’s right to remain as the major tenant of the campus.

But on Monday, both sides were eager to forget the past and look ahead to happier days.

“This outcome is a triumph for the community as a whole,” Rheuban said. “Both sides treated each other with respect, and I am pleased that we were able to get together.”

Sandler observed that “During some of the negotiations, you could hear horror stories from both sides, but that’s in the past. Now everyone wins and the best interests of the community are served.”

Frishman is busy planning for the future. He is aiming for an eventual membership of 2,000, including 100 nursery school kids in the fall.

With the pool in shape and new equipment for the fitness center, he anticipates an enrollment of some 200-300 kindergarten to eighth graders for the 10-week summer camp.

A major attraction for the summer camp will be the swimming school, conducted by Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelberg.

Some 150-200 seniors, whom Frishman refers to as “active adults,” visit the JCC daily and consider it a second home. Frishman hopes to expand their activities, which include trips, musicals, discussion groups and card playing.

He envisions an upswing in the participation of young couples, as well, with the parents dropping off their toddlers at the nursery school and then heading for a workout at the fitness center.

Frishman also plans a further outreach, to involve the Russian and Israeli communities in JCC’s activities.

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