STEUBENVILLE - Temple Beth Israel on Lovers Lane has a new owner, Tri-State Health Services, which is leasing the property to its Prime Time program for a full-service senior center.
Tri-State Health Services is a co-sponsor of Trinity Health System.
Sanford Berman, who with Arthur Recht is co-president of the Temple Beth Israel community, said the decision to sell is a sign of the times: Membership is dwindling and costs are rising
CHANGES COMING — Temple Beth Israel on Lovers Lane will become a full-service senior center in the coming months. Tri-State Health Services, a co-sponsor of Trinity Health System, has purchased the building. The temple has been in service since 1966, when Temple Beth El relocated from North Fifth Street. In 1980, the B’nai Israel synagogue left its South Fifth Street location to join with Temple Beth El and form the new congregation, Temple Beth Israel. - Linda Harris
"We really didn't have much choice," he said. "I didn't think it was ever going to happen, but it has. We're dwindling in membership, it was costing a lot of money to operate ... it's time to do it."
Berman said the deal gives Jefferson County the centralized senior center it has needed "for a long time, so we're happy to have them as our successor."
Prime Time Interim Director Judy Owings called it a "wonderful opportunity" to better serve seniors, who she said represent a big chunk of the county's population base.
"Over the last several years, in the surveys we've taken and the city has taken for its block grant funding, it's always been one of the most requested things, to have some type of senior center or activities," Owings said. "We've worked for long time to make this possible."
Owings said they'd been looking at sites and locations throughout the community for some time to find a suitable operations base before settling on the former synagogue.
"It's not realistic to try to have a fund drive to raise money and build a building, these just aren't the times for that," she said. "So we looked at a variety of options, from renting to purchasing. It was just evident that the temple has everything we need, it's a wonderful facility and they were very cooperative in making it happen. I think they look at it as their legacy to the community."
Owings said the property lends itself to a range of activities, "everything we can do to keep people active and engaged - exercise and computer programs, arts and crafts, almost any kind of recreational and social activity as well as health services, including screenings."
"There's a large dining room, and we will be doing lunches daily, at least Monday through Friday," she said. "We'll have a small cafe area where people can get coffee and snacks, a billiards room, a pingpong room, all of the things associated with a senior center. And it has very nice grounds, an outdoor area, and it will allow us to plan some outdoor activities, too."
She said there's also ample space for special programs and speakers, as well as dances and dance classes, support groups and clubs.
"There are nine different classrooms, plus large areas where we can have lectures, a small area that could be used regularly as a little movie theater. ... It's just very conducive to all we needed. For that reason alone, the costs aren't that much to get it up and operational."
In addition to running the new senior center, Owings said the organization will continue to provide meals for seniors off-site as well. Last year, Owings said Prime Time delivered more than 100,000 meals to seniors in their homes and provided more than 51,000 meals at satellite sites such as churches, fire halls and small senior centers throughout the county. They also provided more than 15,000 transports in 2012 and conducted more than 1,200 screenings in their mobile medical van.
"Our mission hasn't changed," she said. "This is just going to allow us to expand in other areas - support groups, clubs, classes, banquets, things like that. And, we'll be able to offer a bigger variety of services. We utilize block grant and levy money for services, and we're staffing the building with the resources we have now. We're not taking away from anything we do."
Owings said they expect to begin providing services out of the building in June. This year they'll hold their Senior Extravaganza, a sort of resource fair for seniors, at the center on May 29, the 20th anniversary of National Senior Health & Fitness Day. She said they still don't have a name for the new center, so during the celebration they'll be seeking input on that as well as the senior community's programming wish list.
Berman, meanwhile, said it's a sad day for the Temple Beth Israel Community, "no question about it."
"I never thought it would happen, I thought it would be here forever, beyond me when I go, if you know what I mean," he said. "But we thought it was time to do something."
With the synagogue closed, "You like to leave some legacy for all the years we've been here," he added. "It's going to be a senior center now, that's our legacy."