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JCC Pool Conversion Makes Waves
The Kaiserman JCC is in the process of converting its indoor pool to an outdoor one, a decision that was made after a series of unfortunate developments, according to officials at the facility.
Construction crews are tearing down the roof and walls surrounding the pool, which has been closed since the end of 2013 because of structural issues.
According to Beth Segal, Kaiserman’s executive director, the new outdoor facility is expected to open sometime in June.
“The end result will be a wonderful summer gathering place,” Segal wrote in a statement emailed last week to members of the Wynnewood facility.
But not everyone is welcoming the sun.
“For me, it kind of ended my relationship with the JCC,” said Yochi Shmuely, a Bala Cynwyd resident who swam laps in the pool for 15 years.
The pool closed Dec. 16, when staff noticed signs of a buckling ceiling. After consulting with engineers and architects, the JCC leadership raised more than $400,000 for the renovations, including from the Kaiserman family, and started work on the upgrades. But shortly afterwards, those involved with the project learned that the walls had not been built according to code when they were constructed 40 years ago, according to Segal.
Construction was halted immediately, as renovation ceased to be a viable option.
The cost to completely rebuild the pool structure amounted to about $2.3 million — much more than the board of directors had anticipated or raised money for. After receiving a grant earlier this month from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to help with the additional funds needed, the board opted to tear down the walls and convert the pool at a cost of approximately $500,000.
“Our main objective has always been to have an indoor pool, but that just wasn’t becoming a reality,” said Segal, whose facility also boasts a preschool, summer camp, sports leagues and a wide array of classes and programs, including running the local JCC Maccabi program.
In an effort to keep members from leaving, the organization has been paying for its members to use the pool at Lower Merion High School and has rented pool time at Bryn Mawr College and St. Joseph’s University.
“Not being able to provide members with everything we possibly can is very sad for us,” said Segal, who noted that of its 1,400 family member units, some 100 had frozen their memberships because of the pool closure. She declined to say how many had dropped their membership altogether.
Moving forward, the facility plans to hold movie nights, barbecues and other activities at the pool. Segal said she has heard from people who are “excited about having a beautiful outdoor space.”
But there are also the early morning lap swimmers who have to find somewhere else to swim. And even if they come back for the summer, at the end of the season, they will have to again move elsewhere.
Claude Schoenberg sent all three of his children to the Kaiserman’s summer camps and has been exercising there for 16 years, but he said he is unsure if he will continue his membership. More than just the swimming itself, there were other intangibles, the attorney from Bala Cynwyd said.
Over the years, he had met and befriended a number of immigrants from Europe and Israel sitting in the pool, the locker room and the steam room — which is still open.
Even before the roof started to cave in, he said, the number of Jews in the locker room had started to dwindle.
“I think there is some larger significance to the structure surrounding the pool being taken down,” said the 53-year-old, who has been swimming at a nearby LA Fitness instead. “There are other pools and other places to swim, but not in a specifically Jewish environment.”
Shmuely, her husband and two of her sons have canceled their memberships and started to use the Havertown YMCA. Her third son has remained at the Kaiserman.
“As much as the YMCA is nice, it feels foreign,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m in a place that’s my place.”
Segal said the goal remains to reopen an indoor pool and they are hoping that happens “sooner rather than later.”
In a positive development, said board vice president Ron Hoxter, the need for funds bolstered a relationship between Kaiserman and Federation, which had provided only minimal funding to the organization since the area’s JCC system was decentralized in 2009, said Hoxter.
“I’d like to convey that the JCC is in good shape,” he said. “This is going to ultimately be a positive development. I know people are upset that we don’t have an indoor pool for exercise but there weren’t a lot of options for that.”