Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

How we got where we are

 


By David Bornstein

In conversations with many community members, it became apparent that many people blame the Federation for the current crippling debt that encumbers the Maitland campus, while the vast majority don’t understand the situation at all. Having been involved from the beginning, I hope to shed some light on how we got where we are. No biases. Nothing softened or glossed over. Just the facts, and you can form your own opinions from there.

Prior to the Maitland community campus expansion of 2000-2002, before the Capital Campaign, the Federation asked Howard Lefkowitz to meet with every agency and determine their facility needs in order to plan for future growth.  He held a series of exhaustive, detailed meetings in which he asked each agency to lay out their dreams, to figure out what they needed and wanted most, to imagine, if anything was possible, what they would look like if their dreams were fulfilled.

Lefkowitz brought Lamm and Company, a highly reputable design/construction firm aboard to help with concepts and zoning issues. Together, they outlined a vision for a renovated campus. The Jewish Academy of Orlando (then the Hebrew Day School) put the property at the corner of Maitland Avenue and Sandspur under contract, and turned that contract over to the Federation so the properties could be part of one campus. The Day School wanted a new, separate school building large enough to house offices, a cafeteria and large public meeting space, all the classrooms they could want and specialty rooms like science labs. The Jewish Community Center needed renovated pre-school classrooms, a larger workout room, a rebuilt pool, a teen lounge, a new youth wing and space for infant care. The Federation wanted expanded office and meeting space.  Because a broad-based community campaign was desired, Jewish Family Services was promised help to pay for their new building, and Jewiish Senior Housing was given $300,000 in seed money to begin a major assisted living facility that became Shira Lago.

On top of that, plans were designed to build a campus in southwest Orlando. Land was purchased at below market prices. A partnership was negotiated with the South Orlando Jewish Congregation. The architecture was contemporary, sophisticated, created by a committee of southwest Orlando residents, community leaders, and the architectural firm that had been hired, at a cost of $250,000.

Because the overall Jewish community, north and south, was so disparate and difficult to reach and define, it was broadly agreed to hire an outside fundraising organization, whose fee was 5 percent of the total campaign.

All told, when everything was added up, it quickly became apparent that all these dreams could not be realized. The JCC and Hebrew Day School volunteered to take on an additional $1.5 million in debt apiece, assuming, as they did, that major growth and greater revenues were on the horizon. The Day School projected expansion from 250 to 450 students over a decade. The JCC foresaw growth in virtually all programs.  That $3 million, combined with the existing $1 million+ in Maitland campus debt, meant that the property would, after the Capital Campaign, be left with just over $4 million in debt.

What finally happened? The Capital Campaign was a huge success, the largest campaign ever in this community and one of the largest at the time in the nation, totaling $12 million.  The construction on the Maitland campus was completed within 2 percent of budget. The Day School got its building and the lion’s share of construction dollars in Maitland, though the second floor was never finished. The JCC got almost everything it wanted, but lost two tennis courts for additional parking and couldn’t build the water park/pool facility it strongly desired. The new Federation office space was never built. The campus in southwest Orlando lay dormant until Harris Rosen stepped in, scrapped the original plans, designed new plans and built the facility himself. Finally, due to inaccurate financial reporting and a lack of fiscal transparency followed by the recession, funding to the Federation dried up, and debt on the campus grew by an additional $700,000.  And now recently, with campus refinancing that added debt but reduced monthly payments with a lower interest rate, overall campus debt has ballooned to $5.8 million.

The elephant in the room, of course, is what do we do now to reduce this debt and save the jewel of our Jewish community, the massive Maitland community campus, for generations to come? There is a plan being put forth by a group of community leaders to reduce this debt, but the answer, my friends, is what it has always been: it’s in your hands.

And that’s the good word.

Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com.

 

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