Donation to rebuild Jewish community center in Oak Park

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Two Jewish organizations announced Tuesday that a local donor has pledged to renovate and rebuild a Jewish community center in Oak Park.

The Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit will discontinue operations at the site, known as the Jimmy Prentis Morris facility, but keep the name, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and United Jewish Foundation said Tuesday.

The organizations did not provide the amount of the donation. The building, except for the pool area, will be torn down and replaced with a facility that will house Jewish agencies, a fitness operator and program tenants, officials said.

Earlier this year, center officials warned the center could close due to financial problems and cited an annual deficit of $800,000 to $1 million.

It has not been determined who will operate the new community building, said Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit officials on Tuesday.

“This is an extremely positive and exciting milestone for this community,” said Jewish Federation President Lawrence A. Wolfe in a statement. “Finding a way to maintain a community facility in this area has been a priority for us since the decision was made for Jewish Community Center to cease operations here.

“Thanks to the vision and commitment of many people, but especially the donor, JPM will continue to serve the community long into the future.

Metro Detroit has a population of 72,000 Jews, mostly in West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills and Oak Park, according to the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The center in Oak Park, with about 2,500 members, was built nearly 60 years ago and is open to all, officials said. The facility is on the A. Alfred Taubman Jewish Community Campus, 15110 W. 10 Mile. There is a newer facility in West Bloomfield with 5,000 members. Various levels of membership grant use of a gym, pool, free weights and fitness classes. There is also child care, laundry service, a whirlpool and exercise equipment.

Besides the continuation of the pool facility in Oak Park, it was unclear Tuesday if other services might return when the new community building opens.

Every week since 1970, Elizabeth Hackett of Royal Oak has gone to the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park to swim, she said Tuesday evening as she left the center with her husband Victor.

“We just love having this resource here,” said Hackett , 61. “It’s so important for the Jewish community.”

Newcomers also use the center. About two months ago, Carly Paul of Warren began bringing her sons, Ian, 12, Mason, 8, and Donavon, 6, to the center for weekly swim lessons. She said Tuesday she was upset when she first learned the center would close, but hopes there will be swim programs for her sons.

“I think it’s great someone has come in and sees the value in the center,” she said. “I hope they keep it open for everyone.”

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