After an eight-month, $4 million “green” renovation of its pools, the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) this week opened its new Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Aquatic Center. Children’s swim lessons resumed Monday, and other aqua programs will be phased in over the course of the summer, said Michael Kaminsky, president of the WJCC’s board.
Designed by Los Angeles architect Michael Lehrer, the Aquatic Center harks back to the mid-century building’s original intent “to let air and light take over,” Kaminsky said. Skylights and plentiful windows — including three, 20-foot-high, garage-door-like retractable windows — allow natural light and air to fill the space and reduce power usage for heating, air-conditioning and lighting. Energy-efficient LEED-certified lights have also been installed throughout the building.
Around the pools and adjoining areas — indoor/outdoor patios, observation decks, offices and locker rooms — graphic designs and splashes of color play off the mix of water and light. Environmental graphic designer Maureen Nishikawa, of MN Designs, said she used “the inherent qualities of water — movement, bubbles, translucency, reflection” and “the color palette of water — blues, aqua” for both decorative and functional design elements. For new signage, Nishikawa chose a font called “Neutra” for its clean, modern look and for “its echoes of what was there historically.”
The two pools are staffed and primarily used by the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy. Four-time Olympic gold medal-winner Krayzelburg opened his school at the WJCC in 2005, and has been an integral part of the center’s growth ever since. Approximately 1,200 children, age 6 months and up, attend the swim school each summer, and another 200 people of all ages participate in other swim programs. Krayzelburg donated the funds for the center’s new warm-water pool, used for lessons and aqua therapy, which is named after his daughters — the Alexa and Daniella Krayzelburg Instructional Pool.
The other pool, a six-lane, 25-yard “community” pool, was gutted and rebuilt. Both pools use a natural salt purification and filtration system that eliminates the need for chemical chlorine. The system continuously monitors bacteria levels in the water and makes automatic adjustments as necessary, said WJCC Executive Director Brian Greene, adding that the pools are also equipped with a full-chlorine back-up system, should it be needed.
“We’ve tried to do as many environmentally friendly things as we could to make the project as green as possible,” Kaminsky said. The locker rooms are equipped with water-efficient features — faucet and toilet-flushing sensors, waterless urinals for men — that are projected to decrease water usage by approximately 90,000 gallons each year.
This week’s opening is perhaps the most visible reminder of the distance the center has traveled in recent years. In 2001, Los Angeles-area JCCs were forced to cut staff, programs and facility use after their then-parent organization, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), revealed a $2 million budget shortfall. Since that time, WJCC has steadily been rebuilding its programs and increasing membership; before construction began, WJCC’s recreational, cultural, social and educational programs drew 12,000 visits per month.
The lead gift for the Aquatic Center came from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a Baltimore-based organization that supports community centers around the country. The foundation pledged $1 million on the condition that the WJCC could raise $3 million — which they did.
Kaminsky said that although there were no funds for solar panels when construction began, provisions were made to add them later. But within a month or so of breaking ground, Jewish Federation President John Fishel brought an interested donor, Morton La Kretz, to the WJCC. La Kretz, a local real-estate developer who has supported other environmental projects (including the La Kretz Urban Watershed Garden at TreePeople’s headquarters and UCLA’s La Kretz Hall, which houses the Institute of the Environment) decided to fund the panels. They now supply 30 percent of the electricity for the entire WJCC, Greene said.
A recent grant from The Home Depot Foundation will allow WJCC to further “green” the center this fall. Using tools and plantings supplied by the foundation, volunteers from the WJCC community and from nearby Home Depot stores will spend two days planting sustainable landscaping in several areas around the pools.
The new Aquatic Center is just the first part of a multi-phase renovation of the entire facility, which was designed by Sid Eisenstadt and built nearly 55 years ago. Phase one came in on budget and was paid “100 percent through cash donations — we didn’t borrow a penny,” Kaminsky said.
That leaves WJCC with close to $4 million already pledged and an ongoing capital campaign to start the ball rolling on the next phase, which will include renovating the main building on West Olympic Boulevard. Architect Lehrer said his goal for the entire project is to “bring back the former glory of the original design.”
With continued growth in programs — this past year WJCC significantly expanded teen programming, bringing in 600-800 additional visits per year — and completion of the swim center, Greene anticipates ongoing success.
“We’ve demonstrated how you can take an aging facility and bring it to life again with some creative architecture,” he said. “With the reopening, the community will also see that we’re not going anywhere — and that can help us change people’s image of the JCCs in Los Angeles.”