Together after the vote to go ahead with the Jewish Community Campus of Princeton Mercer Bucks are, from left, Andrew Frank, federation board member Mark Merkovitz, Paul Schindel, Daniel Brent, Don Leibowitz, and Drew Staffenberg.
January 6, 2009
Despite the climate of economic uncertainty, the board of the United Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks has given a decisive thumbs-up to moving forward with its new Jewish Community Campus.
Meeting at the federation’s Princeton Junction offices on Dec. 15, the board passed a comprehensive resolution officially placing the project in the hands of the Jewish Community Campus Development Council. The measure was reportedly ratified by close to 80 percent of the assembled board members.
The resolution gives the campus council the go-ahead to instruct Lawrenceville architect Michael Rabin of the New York-based firm Perkins Eastman to draw up detailed final plans for the campus. It calls for the council to put those plans out to bid under a guaranteed maximum price. And it authorizes the council to break ground on the 80-acre campus site bordering Clarksville-Grovers Mills Road in the Princeton Junction section of West Windsor Township.
Ground breaking is expected to take place toward the end of this month, with forecasts calling for completion of the Jewish Community Campus of Princeton Mercer Bucks within 18 to 24 months.
“This is a major, historic step forward for this outstanding community,” said council executive director Drew Staffenberg. “This campus will create a central Jewish address for the entire community.”
Staffenberg said the council has raised about $19.2 million of the estimated $25.7 million cost of the project, with the remaining $6.5 million to be raised in multi-year pledges from the community. He noted that the board’s decision came after two meetings and several hours of intense debate and discussion.
“My sense is that the majority — almost everybody — in one way or another wants this project,” he said. “Some are nervous, given the economic conditions today, but they took a leadership position that we need to move forward as a Jewish community.”
Staffenberg added with emotion, “I think this will change the community in ways we can only start to dream about.”
The board’s decision will set in motion construction of a 77,022-square-foot multiuse facility that will be the home of the region’s core Jewish agencies — the federation, the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, the Jewish Community Center of Princeton Mercer Bucks, and the JCC’s Early Childhood Learning Center and Abrams Day Camp.
The building will also house classrooms, meeting rooms, a kosher cafe, a fitness facility, and an indoor pool. Plans call for 272 parking spaces. Staffenberg said that development of the site’s 20 acres of recreational areas and campgrounds will remain on hold until the community can undertake a second phase of the development project.
Paul Schindel of Lawrence, who cochairs the campus council with Ron Berman of Princeton, said that with the board’s vote, he sees the campus as “a sure thing.”
“The next step,” Schindel said, “is to reach out to the community and encourage every Jewish household to learn about all the campus has to offer and to support the project with their time, their enthusiasm, and their contributions in support of the capital campaign.”
Federation president Daniel Brent of Princeton said he was pleased with the intensity of the board’s involvement in the project. “I think it’s an important step in the continuing evolution of this Jewish community in providing a wonderful new dimension for common ground for Jews throughout the area — regardless of the degree to which they have previously been involved in Jewish communal life.
Brent said he sees the campus as a gateway into greater Jewish community involvement across the board — in synagogues, the federation, and Jewish agencies and organizations. He called the decision to create the campus “an important development in securing the future of the community and enhancing the ability of federation to fulfill its core mission.”
Don Leibowitz of West Windsor, president of the JCC and a former federation president, predicted that the campus would be a catalyst for cooperation and connection within the community.
“For the JCC, here’s the opportunity to take an organization that’s been in this community for 98 years and revitalize and recreate it in a new location right in the heart of the community,” Leibowitz said.
“I see us all working together to have outstanding programming and to do things that couldn’t be done individually,” he said. “And I see this as a not-to-be-missed opportunity for federation to show that it’s at the forefront of community leadership.”
For Joe Fath of Princeton, the decision represents an affirmation of the dream he began pursuing more than eight years ago, when he and Robin Persky of Princeton cochaired a committee to explore the possibility of establishing a Jewish community campus.
Fath said he thinks the project “will increase the identity and the activities of the entire Jewish community and give us a more close-knit relationship in Mercer County.”
Federation executive director Andrew Frank said that the board members who voted “yes” did so with just that vision in mind.
“We need a place people can call their Jewish home — a place where they will have access to people from other synagogues, and where they can learn from each other, with each other, and about each other,” Frank said.
“It’s an enormously challenging undertaking, but we have made the decision to go forward because we believe in its centrality to the growth and renaissance of this community.”