The Stroum Jewish Community Center’s Mercer Island site looks the same until you make your way toward the back of the building. That’s where you’ll find temporary walls in front of the old auditorium, and you’ll hear plenty of construction noise, but what the JCC will unveil by early next year will be a completely different space from the dark, outdated room that preceded it.
“All of it is going to be fully remodeled,” said Judy Neuman, the JCC’s CEO. “It’s going to be a very fluid and flexible space.”
Aaron Alhadeff, the JCC’s board president and capital campaign chair, said it’s no secret a remodel has been needed for the 45-year-old building. But just doing construction didn’t resonate with donors without an understanding of how it could benefit the people who will be using it.
“Once we shifted from what our facility needs were to what the community needs were, that’s when we got traction,” Alhadeff said.
Permits were obtained early last month and work began soon after. The project will not just create a new auditorium, but also rework the space around it so what is currently a foyer and classroom will become a modular space for multiple uses, with a library and play area to draw people in from across the region.
“You could have a reception in the foyer one moment, and you could have drop-in play space for a family in the unscheduled times,” Neuman said. “The library room will open up into the foyer so you can have that as two distinctly separate spaces, or one space.”
All of which will flow into the centerpiece of this project, the auditorium.
“One of the big things we’ll be doing is bringing natural light in,” Neuman said. That will come through the installation of skylights as well as windows on the north-facing wall that opens onto the building’s rear courtyard. Seating capacity will increase by 50 percent.
The way the space will be reworked will allow for the overall execution of the JCC’s programmatic strategy: The new audiovisual system will have digital projection capabilities, surround sound, and the ability to stream online video, in line with the agency’s takeover of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival last year.
While the festival wouldn’t move entirely in-house from its regular Seattle venues, this will create Mercer Island’s only movie theater, as well as a more inviting performance space.
“We’ll be able to bring all kinds of talent and artists culturally that we haven’t been able to serve before, from a standup comedian to dance troupes to musical ensembles to concerts,” Neuman said.
Alhadeff pointed to JCCs in New York and San Francisco that have become centers of Jewish culture.
“Demand is growing more and more every day for a cultural and performing arts central place in the Jewish community,” he said.
Alhadeff added that the space will be suitable for wedding and B’nai Mitzvah receptions as well. Still, Neuman noted that becoming a cultural arts and events center does remain secondary to the early childhood and camps programs, which will make use of the space on a daily basis.
This phase, which the JCC expects to be the first of several, raised $5 million and encompasses the remodel, land at the southern end of the property purchased from the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center that now houses the JCC’s Kesher garden, and programming dollars.
“The programmatic money we’re getting is as significant, if not more significant, than rebuilding the facility,” Alhadeff said. “We were definitely intentional about not building a wonderful vessel without being able to put anything in it.”
The campaign launched with a large lead gift and multiple community supporters, which Alhadeff called “angel funders,” as well as full board participation. For future phases, the JCC will need much wider community support, he said.
As for the next phase, “we want to see how the community responds before we put the date out there,” Neuman said. “Right now our schedule is to get this project completed.”