by Matthew Levine
(AJNews) – Since the sale of the Edmonton JCC in 2012, we have been missing an important gathering place that can unite and bring new members to our Jewish community in Edmonton. As a community, we now have an opportunity to purchase and renovate a Jewish home away from home. A facility committee has spent months searching listings, assessing criteria such as building conditions, on and off-site attributes, ease of implementation, property consideration, and community benefits. They also did their diligence studying similar sized Jewish communities and believe that a building located at 14205 – 109 Avenue will fit ours well.
On November 14th, the Jewish Federation of Edmonton held a town hall meeting at Beth Shalom, inviting all Jewish community member to attend. Committee members explained their selection process and described the building, its location, and how long it would take to make it JJC ready. They then allowed members of the Jewish community to express questions and concerns in a Q and A format.
An offer has been made and accepted on this building, with conditions; nothing is finalized yet. They are currently still assessing renovation costs as the building is completely stripped down, but strongly believe that it is within their budget. A final vote on the sale of this building will take place at the AGM on December 6, where anyone over the age of eighteen who has made a minimum $18 contribution to the United Jewish Appeal Campaign prior to the last day of the fiscal year can vote.
The Q and A resulted in numerous important questions and thoughts surrounding the chosen location. We were told that it is a safe location on a direct bus line, that there will be 30 parking spots (not including a next-door school whose parkade would be available on weekends), and that the building has approximately 19,300 square feet of space (including the basement). The main multipurpose room can seat somewhere around 200 people. The committee believes the location is fairly central in terms of where Jewish people live. They expect that the new JCC would be self-sustaining through renting office space, renting out rooms for events, and endowments. Surrounding the location are pickleball courts, a baseball diamond, and a public playground/park.
One of the best discussions of the evening came during the posed question: How will the JCC attract younger Jewish families, interfaith families, and Jewish people who have not shown interest in community events and gatherings. Only a handful of people under 40 were in attendance at the town hall; it seemed that their voices were missing. The committee stressed the importance of having a JCC that is non-denominational, and that serves as a secular inclusive space where everyone is welcome.
Another question coming from the audience was whether the committee had approached Talmud Torah or Beth Israel to build the new JCC on their property as these are locations that already have established Jewish communities surrounding them. The committee said that they researched and discussed both these institutions, but after approaching them, could not work anything out.
Questions also focused on projected costs of renovations and operations, with a concern that funds from an endowment might not cover operating expenses. Other questions were centred on the age of the building, while others wanted to know exactly what programs and services besides office space would be offered.
Some of the attendees spoke passionately that we have been without a gathering place long enough and it is time to act.
At the townhall, event organizers posted informative billboards; one of which listed frequently asked questions.
Q1: We have existing space in the Jewish community. Why do we need a JCC?
Answer: Our community has been missing and has expressed desire for a non-denominational gathering space. The current lease on JFED office space ends in August 2024 so the timing is good, and our 2021-25 strategic plan includes a JCC.
Q2: Why this location?
Answer: There are Jews living across the city of Edmonton. There is no available space south of the Whitemud, and this area is becoming a major corridor.
Q3: What is the JCC’s purpose?
Answer: The next committee will plan the JCC’s facilities. Possible considerations include community tenants, a Holocaust resource/information center, play area for children and a teen lounge. (The possibility of a coffee shop was also discussed.)
Q4: How will costs be covered?
Answer: Proceeds from the sale of the last JCC have been set aside and cannot be used for any other purposes. The funds are adequate to purchase this building and pay for renovations. An endowment will need to be established for operational funds.
There is a two-year window where funds from the sale of the old JCC will remain tax free. That being said, the sentiment at the town hall was that people must ask themselves if this is the right time and location for our Jewish community. Concerns were voiced that more information about hard costs should be available prior to a vote. And that more people under the age of forty should be hearing this information and considering the implications for their demographic. Meanwhile, Edmonton has been missing a secular Jewish community centre for years now, and if this facility is voted through, it is estimated to be fully renovated and ready for use in 3-4 years.
In a message to the Edmonton Jewish community, Stacey Leavitt-Wright wrote, “While there is still work to be done to determine the exact floor plan and tenants, the possibilities this building provides are endless.
“It is time that we established a facility so that our youth and teens can thrive and future generations in Edmonton can have a community hub. The Federation has diligently gone through the steps to find land and a facility to suit our community’s needs. The opportunity is here. Let’s seize this chance and move forward together to build a stronger future.”
The vote is scheduled for December 6. Any questions should be directed to Jewish Federation of Edmonton.
Matthew Levine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.