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Mittleman community center gets in shape

by: Jessie Kirk, Raleigh Hills resident Hilary Barthold watches a television screen attached to her cardio machine during her morning workout at the MIttleman Jewish Community Center. The center's athletic facilities recently opened since being remodeled

These are busy days at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Construction workers are in every hallway, painting, plastering, hammering and otherwise preparing the facility, while school-aged children roam the campus, and the staff continues with the business of running a busy neighborhood center.

On Oct. 22, the MJCC staff held an open house to show the transformations they've made to the athletic facilities. The open house showcased the complete renovation of the center's athletic facilities, part of a $10 million improvement plan intended to boost membership and neighborhood use of the facility.

The improvements include a state-of-the-art weight and cardiovascular room, featuring a handful of cardio machines that have individual television screens attached. The lobby, gymnasium and auditorium are also being upgraded, as well as the pool heating system, the roof and other mechanical improvements.

'The facility had been let go for 20 years,' explained Jordan Schnitzer, chairman of the Mittleman board of directors. 'We had a tremendous amount of deferred maintenance.'

The center occupies several buildings on seven acres in Hillsdale. The campus includes a K-8 school, the Portland Jewish Academy, and a pre-kindergarten program.

Despite offering a wealth of programs for the community, the center was in danger of closing in 2004 when it faced $2.7 in bank debt and an operating deficit of $800,000.

Things began to turn around when a new board of directors was formed and headed by Schnitzer. To get the center back on track financially, the board decided that they had to eliminate programs that were financial burdens and they had to increase the cost of memberships from $55 to $75 a month.

'We want to position ourselves between the Multnomah Athletic Club and 24-Hour Fitness by offering family-oriented programs for the whole community,' Schnitzer said.

With about 300 memberships and gaining, the goal is to have 600 to 800 members to ensure financial stability. The center's leadership hopes that the recent renovations will spark an interest in new members.

The construction on the athletic facility began in April and was completed in September. What was once a small room with a handful of machines is now 3,500-square foot workout space with 26 cardio machines and about as many weight training machines. Wall-mounted, flat screen televisions line the walls of the gym and the locker room lounges.

'I love it, it's a great facility,' said Steve Kaufman, a member who lives in John's Landing. Kaufman's daughter attends the Portland Jewish Academy on the campus of the MJCC, so dropping her off and working out can be done in one trip. On his first day using the new center, Kaufman said, 'I love the keyless lockers and the saunas. . . Everything looks new and nice.'

While one of the racquetball courts was eliminated in the new design, the space made room for massage rooms and an area for working out with a trainer on Pilates equipment. There is also a group exercise room where members can take classes like yoga, spinning and dance.

'People are loving the changes,' said Lisa Horowitz, MJCC's director of advancement. 'Their first word is always 'wow.''

With the athletic facility finished, the center will continue transformations as the auditorium and lobby are reconstructed. They will be finished in time for the ribbon cutting and grand re-opening Jan. 7. But even after the grand opening, work will continue at the center as the second phase of the renovation includes remodeling the administrative areas, updating the landscaping and other redesigns that will uplift the campus inside and out.

For more information about the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, please call 503-244-0111, or visit www.oregonjcc.org.