Oak Park JCC prepares to shut doors at end of month.
It’s business as usual at the Oak Park Jewish Community Center, despite its planned closure on Aug. 31.“Until 10 p.m. on that day, the Oak Park JCC will continue all of its activities and programs,” said JCC CEO Jim Issner.
The only change, he notes, is the closure of Sara’s Deli. “That was the decision of the owners, who decided not to reopen after Tisha b’Av,” he said.
Issner and his team are busy making preparations for the transition of members and a selection of employees to the West Bloomfield facility upon the Oak Park JCC’s closure.
Oak Park JCC Employees
The majority of the Oak Park JCC’s 16 full-time employees will move to jobs at the Maple-Drake location, Issner said. “We believe they will complement the existing staff at West Bloomfield and enhance the customer service experience,” he said.
The facilities staff will continue on with the third-party property manager hired to manage the facility after Aug. 31.
All employees who are laid off will be eligible for unemployment benefits and any unused vacation pay, he added. No severance packages are planned at this time.
“We are working with JVS to provide services to those employees who will be laid off.
“Some of the part-timers, primarily instructors and trainers, may be picked up by the West Bloomfield JCC down the road,” Issner said.
Formal lay-off notifications will be provided to employees early in August, he said.
Oak Park JCC Members
Although the Oak Park and West Bloomfield JCCs have different rate structures, there has always been reciprocity at both locations. “Oak Park JCC members will not have their memberships canceled,” Issner said. “Even though one of our facilities is closing, our members are still part of the JCC family. We would never assume that our members would want to have their memberships automatically canceled.”
They do need to take action, however, because Oak Park JCC members will need different access badges for the West Bloomfield JCC.
Oak Park members, who total around 2,500, according to the JCC, recently received a letter outlining their options. Those who want to keep their memberships active will pay their current Oak Park rate through Dec. 31. And those who have paid for memberships into next year will also keep their current rates.
As of Jan. 1 or at the expiration date of the current membership (if later than Jan. 1), Oak Park JCC members will be provided with incentives to retain their memberships, Issner added. “Our No. 1 goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible and welcome Oak Park users to West Bloomfield.”
Issner said he realizes that some members in Southfield, Oak Park and Huntington Woods may feel that the West Bloomfield JCC is just too far for them to drive.
He said there are no plans to offer a shuttle or bus from that location to the West Bloomfield JCC although that decision can be revisited if there is enough demand.
Members may cancel their memberships on or before Aug. 31. Any recurring charges will cease upon the cancellation date, and any unused portion of dues paid will be refunded.
Current Oak Park JCC members need to contact Oak Park JCC Membership Director Marc Front at email@example.com or (248) 432-5605 with their decision.
Excluding the fitness and aquatics programs, every effort is being made to continue the Oak Park JCC programming, including retiree programs like Active Life, IRP and COJAR, at other locations around Oak Park, Southfield and Huntington Woods.
“We’re currently looking at what space is available and at potential partnerships,” Issner said. Potential partners include Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, and Jewish senior apartments, Temple Emanu-El and Young Israel in Oak Park. “Some programs may return to the Oak Park facility depending on the future use of the building,” he added. “More information, including programming schedules, will be shared in the weeks to come.”
Issner said that the West Bloomfield JCC will investigate the possibility of gender-segregated swim. “However, the West Bloomfield facility layout presents unique challenges,” he said.
Most of the equipment from the Oak Park fitness center will be utilized by the West Bloomfield JCC.
JCC Challenges Remain
Membership at the West Bloomfield facility remains flat at about 5,000 members, Issner said. A new marketing director, Bret Hopman, was brought on to help grow membership.
“My goal is to let the community know all we do at the JCC and demonstrate that we are a flexible institution capable of meeting our members’ needs,” Hopman said. “We are not just a fitness center. Every day, we have numerous activities for every age group and interest, from JCC day camps to inline hockey to performances at the Berman.”
Hopman is working on a plan to rebrand the JCC to get that message out. The website is also being updated to better serve the community, he said.
Financially, the JCC still has debt of $2.3 million, down from $6 million, but is “financially stable,” according to Issner. “The JCC is capable of being break-even although it still requires the support of Federation and donors.”
The JCC is working with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit to contact donor families who gave generously to the Oak Park facility about the transition. “This is ongoing and being done on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
What Comes Next?
“None of us are happy that the Oak Park JCC facility is closing,” said Issner, who adds that he knows that to many members, the facility is like a “second home.”
“It was a financially necessary decision we made to stabilize the JCC,” he continued. “I’m happy with the progress we’re making on that front. My goal is to finish the job of removing the debt and leave the JCC with a viable business plan that can see it into the future.”
The Federation continues to vet proposals, both secular and Jewish, it has received for the Oak Park facility, according to Federation Marketing Director Ted Cohen.
“The goal is to maintain services for the Jewish community at that location,” he said. “We hope to have an announcement to make within the next few weeks.”
By: Jackie Headapohl, Managing Editor