Indoor play space among final touches to Tucson J renovation

(Chase Cohen/Tucson Jewish Community Center)

Tucked away in an upstairs corner of the Tucson Jewish Community Center sits a room that would make any kid’s eyes light up. That’s where a new, huge jungle gym lives. Donated by the Diamondbacks baseball team, the structure features tubes and slides and soft climbing stairs. An oversized, kid-friendly baseball bat lies on its side on the first floor. No wonder the 12 youngsters using it one afternoon, barely older than toddlers, are laughing and running and sliding down the colorful, friendly giant.

That room is just one portion of phase two of the renovations at the Tucson J. Built on the roof of the area that houses the early childhood classrooms, this latest addition features offices, a kosher demonstration-teaching kitchen, a multi-purpose room and a room that is now the home of Taglit, the program for people ages 17 to 39 with disabilities.

Even the early childhood classrooms got spruced up.

“We started phase two of our remodel and renovation this past summer and while they were building the indoor play space … it was decided they would renovate early childhood classrooms with new paint, new floors, new ceiling tiles,” says Wendy Edmonds, co-director of the early childhood education program. “The old shelves came down and new shelves are going up and it’s just been amazing.”

Classes with children older than two years use the new, temperature-controlled play space but they are not the only ones.

“A lot of parents are using it after school when they pick up [their kids],” Edmonds says. “The kids go, ‘I want to go to the play space,’ so it is a destination.”

The play space is also available for rent on the weekends.

The staff, parents and children of the early childhood education program aren’t the only ones benefitting from the new space, however. The Taglit program has now moved into its new offices and classrooms and everyone involved, especially the clients, are pleased.

“Lots of excitement from our participants, their families, the staff,” says Kristin Taft, the director of special needs services. “Some of the big changes, those big windows, having all of that natural light has just been wonderful and having space to call our own that is dedicated space, that is ours, gives them a great sense of ownership over it.”

The expanded quarters have allowed Taglit to divide its program into two segments to better serve its clients. The 11 members of the Avodah (or vocational) cohort are working toward employment or perhaps independent living, depending on each person’s situation, says Taft, and it’s all done in their room.

“This room serves as home base,” Taft says. “Everybody has their own little cubby in there. As we go through our day, that’s where we go in and out … we do migrate throughout the facility. We go to the gym; we go to the pool. They have activities in other spaces but we always come back to home base where they’ll eat their lunch. That’s where we also do any of our specific lessons.”

Besides the huge picture windows, a large fish tank containing one large, round goldfish dominates the room. Everyone in the group contributes to Felicia’s care. They take turns feeding her and everyone assists in cleaning her tank. Across the hall the 16 members of the Ha-Ash-Arah (or enrichment) group have their own spruced-up space. A wall was knocked down, opening up the room, which overlooks the ceramics studio, and to some degree, the mountains.

“That group does a lot of their personalized projects, their one-on-one stuff,” Taft says. “We also do some physical fitness. We keep mats up there and we will lay mats out in the room and get down and do [physical therapy] exercises or specific exercise routines with our guys.”

The new facilities have become a popular place.

“I like it,” said Dylan Sobel, a participant in Ha-Ash-Arah. “It’s cool.”

During phase one of the J’s renovations, the sports and wellness center was enlarged to 15,000 square feet and revamped to include updated locker rooms, new exercise equipment and a remodeled Café at the J.

With the completion of phase two, Todd Rockoff, president and CEO, is eying a bright future for the J.

“The building of the facility was not the end, rather a new beginning of exciting new programs and endless possiblity,” says Rockoff.