Jewish Federation Lets Oak Park JCC Go, Seeks New Operators
(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 6, 2015)
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit has made the decision to close the Oak Park Jewish Community Center. The doors will close Aug. 31, unless new management is found. The Center sits in a location central to several synagogues and senior housing with large Jewish populations, and the facility provided recreation opportunities including a gym, pool and workout center, as well as educational and community gathering opportunities.
The West Bloomfield facility will remain open.
The move comes in the wake of a $1.3 million budget shortfall. In January the Federation released statement about the shortfall, stating they were “reviewing and addressing a number of longstanding financial challenges at the JCC that surfaced in the Fall of 2013. At that time, a Financial Oversight Committee was formed to assess the financial condition of the JCC and oversee its operations. The Oversight Committee was comprised of both lay and professional representatives from the JCC and the Jewish Federation.
“One of the first actions of the Oversight Committee was to hire an outside accounting firm, Financial One Accounting, Inc., to fully examine the finances of the JCC in order to establish a reliable operational baseline. Early in 2014, Jim Issner was hired by the Oversight Committee as the Interim CEO of the JCC.”
A grassroots committee, led by Oak Park residents Aaron Tobin and Professor Ron Aronson, tried to save the JCC. In an open letter to Issner, Tobin wrote about the trend of young Jewish people moving to South Oakland County an living in places like Oak Park, Southfield, Huntington Woods and Ferndale. He also spoke for the seniors, stating “Closing this JCC would harm the Jewish Community as a whole, and our senior citizens would be disproportionately negatively impacted by this closure. The two senior citizen apartment buildings at the JCC campus were built there so that the seniors could have the benefits the center and all of the programming and events that are provided for them. The Russian speaking community and the areas Holocaust survivors would be hurt to by the cancellation of programs held at the center for them.”
“To be sure, if the Oak Park JCC closes, these families would not be driving out to West Bloomfield to use those facilities, and you would effectively be closing the door to them having a JCC to call their own,” Tobin said.
After the announcement, Tobin said “We’re still optimistic that we can find organization that can take over the JCC. The name on the front is not as important as the services inside, but we do hope it can remain a Jewish Community Center. A lot have people have donated a lot of money and a lot of time to make it what it is.” He added that the Jewish Federation has been upfront since January about their plans. “They’ve been very open about working with us and letting people know what is going on. Some people may be surprised, but this isn’t a sudden decision.”
Those who want to remain part of the discussion can attend a meeting on Monday, March 9 at 7pm at the Oak Park JCC where Tobin, Aronson and other organizers will continue to brainstorm what the public can do to help find a new manager for the center. There is also a Facebook page for the effort called Save the Oak Park JCC at https://www.facebook.com/savetheopjcc.
In announcing the closure, the Jewish Federation issued the following statement:
“An Update on the Oak Park JCC Facility.
“As the situation regarding the Oak Park JCC facility progresses, we wanted to share the latest information with our community.
“As has been reported earlier, the JCC faces a $1.3 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year. Significant efforts to close this budget deficit have and will continue to take place across the community. However, there have been no adequate solutions or funding sources identified beyond the recommendation, made by the Financial Oversight Committee earlier this year, that the JCC cease operating out of its Oak Park facility. This action will eliminate at least $800,000 in annual loss and would be a critical step—along with ongoing changes at the West Bloomfield facility—towards ensuring that the organization can continue serving our Jewish community. In addition, over the past two years, the combined boards of the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Fund have approved grants totaling $4.3 million, beyond the $1.5 million Annual Campaign allocation, to help resolve the financial crisis at the JCC.
“In light of the recommendation, community leadership at the JCC, Federation and elsewhere, are now working on three parallel efforts:
“Preparations for a transition of JCC programs and services, assuming it no longer operates out of the Oak Park facility after August 31. As a step in this process, votes were held this week by both the JCC and JFMD & UJC Boards approving the recommendation to cease operating out of the building by August 31, 2015 at the latest, assuming no adequate source of revenue is found to close the projected budget shortfall that threatens the viability of the JCC.
“A grassroots effort to mobilize the community, seek funding and new memberships, and ensure that a voice is heard from local residents. The Jewish Federation and the JCC endorse this effort and have worked closely with leadership of the grassroots committee.
“An open search and RFP (Request For Proposal) process to find new management for the facility. The objective of this search is to find an operator who will maintain an inclusive community facility that continues to serve the Jewish population in the area with programming by the JCC and other Jewish community organizations. An RFP will be shared this month, and hopefully a decision will be announced during the summer.
“Both professional and lay leaders at the JCC and Federation clearly understand the emotional impact of the proposed changes, particularly to residents of Oak Park, Southfield, Huntington Woods and neighboring cities. Over many decades, the Jewish Federation has raised and distributed significant funds to support this vital and thriving area. While this is an extremely difficult process, both Federation and the JCC remain fully committed to continuing to serve the many diverse Jews in the area.
“We would like to express our gratitude to everyone involved, in any capacity, for your continuing commitment and passion for our community and its organizations. Ours is among the most vibrant Jewish communities anywhere, and we will remain strong and united despite the changes—and challenges—that inevitably arise.
“We will continue to keep you informed as new developments emerge.”
Patti Morris Phillips, who is a member of the Jewish Federation Board and the sister of the building’s namesake, shared her views on the “Save the Oak Park Jewish Community Center” Facebook page. “I cannot explain the emotions that are going through my mind. I truly feel misled. We donated the Teen Center at WB at a time that the JPM probably could of used the money. We gave the social hall at JPM because it was supposed to increase the JPM membership. I am hoping through the hard work of your committee the JPM can be a far better center and not treated as “only a building”. Nobody can understand my families feelings except us. I am a part of the Federation board and will be voting today. Not sure how to vote because the JCC board does not want us. We can form our own hopefully and do a better job.”
Jewish Federation Lets Oak Park JCC Go, Seeks New Operators