The new Boulder Jewish Community Center has been 20 years in the making.

From a dream sketched out in Boulder living rooms, it is now $18 million raised by the community, a substantial land donation from a nonprofit partner, architectural drawings and renderings and, as of Tuesday night, an annexation request approved by the Boulder City Council that could allow ground to be broken later this year.

Boulder's JCC started as a small preschool outpost of the Denver JCC, but members of Boulder's Jewish community wanted much more.

"They wanted to create a place for Jewish life to flourish in Boulder," said Jonathan Lev, executive director of the JCC. "That was the idea for the Boulder Jewish Commons. That was the vision."

Aylah Seigal, left, McKenzie Palles and Iris Webber, with the book on her head, take some time out for reading Wednesday at the Boulder Jewish Community
Aylah Seigal, left, McKenzie Palles and Iris Webber, with the book on her head, take some time out for reading Wednesday at the Boulder Jewish Community Center. A parcel of land near Cherryvale Road and Arapahoe Avenue will be the site of a new, larger center. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

That vision is now coming to fruition, Lev said.

In the late 1990s, the Oreg Foundation bought roughly 19 acres of land on the south side of Arapahoe Avenue, east of Cherryvale Road, with the idea that it could be a campus for Jewish life in Boulder.

Created as the Weaver Family Foundation by Butch and Francine Weaver, the Oreg Foundation gives money to social service agencies that provide for basic needs, to projects promoting Jewish life and culture, and to environmental initiatives.

Butch Weaver is on the board of JCC.

Julie Shaffer, the foundation's executive director, said the foundation held onto the land all these years because of its commitment to seeing that vision realized.

"We were absolutely elated to get to this point," Shaffer said. "There's a lot of work that has gone into this, and we really saw the fruits of all the work we put in, into building relationships. Our spirits are soaring."

The plans call for a 63,000-square-foot building that houses an infant childcare program, a preschool, a teen center, adult education classrooms, a Jewish library, a gymnasium and other athletic facilities.

Emmet Lowe sings and plays guitar during music time at the Boulder Jewish Community Center on Wednesday. Plans for the new, much larger center call for a
Emmet Lowe sings and plays guitar during music time at the Boulder Jewish Community Center on Wednesday. Plans for the new, much larger center call for a 63,000-square-foot building that houses an infant childcare program, a preschool, a teen center, adult education classrooms, a Jewish library, a gymnasium and other athletic facilities. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

"Part of what the JCC offers is a connection for families from birth or even pre-birth all the way to death and grieving groups," Lev said. "Everything for any age group is at this center. And we're connecting generation to generation, which is a core value that we have, while providing an opportunity for each generation to have activities that are relevant and timely and social for them."

The entire existing JCC, located at 3800 Kalmia Ave., near the Diagonal Highway, would be able to fit into the space the new center allocates just to the preschool, Lev said.

The JCC can now serve 60 kids in its preschool and has no infant care. The new building will be able to serve 150 children, offer infant care and greatly expand after-school and summer camp options for older children, Lev said.

The JCC will also be able to expand its cultural offerings at the new location. The Boulder Jewish Film Festival is now held mostly at the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Center for the Arts. Lev said the JCC will still partner with the Dairy, but the center will also be able to show movies in its own theater.

The process of designing the building, which started in earnest in 2010, was a community process that included many voices contributing their ideas for the center.

"It's not just building the building," Lev said. "It's building a community building to build community. It's a very different approach to just building infrastructure. And everything that went into it is about building relationships."

The capital campaign also began in earnest in 2010.

Scott Peppet, co-chairman of the campaign, said all three of his children went to preschool at the JCC, and his wife, Kelly Zell, had been active with the JCC for nearly two decades.

It took broad community support to raise the pre-construction goal of $18 million. Nearly 1,000 people and organizations donated to the effort.

"There was this very deep community of people who had already worked on the project," Peppet said. "We thought it would take a year, and it took more like four and a half. There are always bumps in the road, but anytime that would happen, someone in the community would step up or we'd work through it. It just gathered momentum, and as the momentum built, it became increasingly clear that we could do it."

Boulder City Council members praised the project when they voted for the annexation Tuesday.

The project includes an 8.59-acre donation of open space to the city to preserve Sombrero Marsh, the construction of a traffic circle on Cherryvale and the possibility of housing or another nonprofit use on an undedicated portion of the property.

Shaffer said the original vision was for housing for the elderly, but the Oreg Foundation is open to working with any nonprofit partner whose project complements the community center.

Next month, the JCC can submit site plans to the city and then building permits.

Lev said the JCC hopes to break ground by the end of 2014 and open in late 2015 or early 2016.

Though the JCC is oriented toward the Jewish community and Jewish life, the center will be open to the entire community and offer programming for all.

The JCC already provides space for parenting classes and new mother's groups since the Parenting Place moved out of Boulder.

But the JCC plays a special role in Boulder's Jewish community, where many people are transplants and don't have family in the area, Lev said.

"This project is truly a testament for the community and a project of the community by the community," he said. "It's clear that it's been a desire and a want but also a need. The emotional component is such an important piece of this. This is a place where friends become family."

City Council members said the building could become an important gateway to Boulder from the east, and Peppet said he hopes the center becomes a place the entire community can be proud of.

"I hope it plays an important role in the community and fulfills its mission and is a place that people are proud of," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355, meltzere@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/meltzere.