York JCC looking to expand summer camp to 20-acre outdoor site

Kids play tug-of-war at the York Jewish Community Center's summer day camp. The organization is looking to expand its camp to an offsite property of at least 20 acres and provide more outdoor activities.

More students than ever attended the York Jewish Community's day camp last summer, prompting leadership to seek a bigger location for next year's program.

More than 300 children attended this year's camp, a program for preschoolers through 10th-graders that runs for 11 weeks at the JCC's 2000 Hollywood Drive facilities in York Township.

Moving the camp to an offsite location would allow the organization to accommodate more youngsters and also provide an opportunity for more outdoor activities, said the center's CEO, Dani Fessler. 

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Most offsite locations offer activities such as adventure courses, zip lines, outdoor sports, a swimming pool and hiking as well as art and nature-related options, he said.

The JCC hopes to bring that kind of programming to its camp, said Fessler, who noted more outdoor activities have definitely been a request from those who attend the camp.

The JCC's current program has some outdoor activities, but most are indoors, he said.

"In summertime, it’s a pity they can’t be more outside," Fessler said.

Early stages: The organization is in the early stages of the process, he noted. The first step will be gathering information from a feasibility study.

The feedback has been positive so far, and it's made Fessler optimistic that the community will be supportive of the change.

Many people responding to a survey said it was something the county really needs, Fessler said.

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Kaleidoscope Inc., an Ohio-based consulting firm that advises communities on improving and starting new camps, is managing the study.

By the end of November, the firm will have met with focus groups, the JCC leadership team, board members and any community members who can offer expertise, Fessler said.

But he said the decision will take time because it presents a challenge — finding a location the right size and distance from the JCC.

"We know that we don’t need more than 55 (acres) but less than 20 would be too small," he said.

And convenience has been a big factor in families choosing the camp, so he hopes to keep the new location within a short drive of the JCC.

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Students play outside at the York Jewish Community Center's summer day camp. The organization is looking to expand its camp to an offsite property of at least 20 acres and provide more outdoor activities.

Buying or renting? To get ideas, leadership has visited offsite camps in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland and had a few conversations with potential sites for the JCC — but it's too early in the process to reveal any considerations, he said.

Ideally, the JCC would like to purchase its own facility, but the challenge will be finding one that can be used year-round. That would ensure the camp could run for many years, Fessler said.

The decision will depend on what's most cost-effective, he said, though likely the organization will start small by renting or partnering with an existing facility.

In addition to costs associated with renting or purchasing, the JCC will need to consider costs for developing or putting up facilities on the property, Fessler said. Once leadership knows what's needed, a capital campaign will be launched, he said.

Fessler said leadership also is considering holding meetings to receive public input.

The plan is to submit the results of the feasibility study to the organization's board to discuss in early December, with a projected opening of the new camp by next summer.