DO WE NEED A COMMUNITY CENTER?

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Dr. Diana Salvador, above, says yes; Council President Sharon Lee, at right, agrees, but says citizens will have to get behind the idea first.

Kids’ activist David Prown’s request that the Red Bank council put the brakes on a plan to auction off a corner property on the West Side found no takers on the governing body last night.

But it may have sparked a broader discussion about whether the time has come for the borough to build a community center, something it hasn’t had for decades.

Council members were fairly dug-in in rejecting Prown’s call to keep the building at Drs. James Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue as borough property and convert it to public use. It’s now under lease for $1 a year to the Community YMCA, which has run pre-and after-school programs at the site but is moving out at the end of August.

Prown, of Hillside Avenue, says that in spite of its limitations, which include a location at a busy corner, an absence of off-street parking, and no recreational facilities, the property is a good place to plant the seeds of what might become a community center, even at another location.

“It doesn’t have a pool, it doesn’t have a basketball court, but you have to start somewhere,” Prown told the council. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Dr. Diana Salvador, a psychologist and former program director at the Red Bank Education and Development Initiative who has worked in the facility, called on the council to start a public dialogue about the pros and cons of creating a townwide center, and suggested that the structure to be sold, even if it is “a crappy old building,” might, as Prown suggested, be a place to start.

“A conversation nees to happen on creating a community center for our kids,” she said. “Not so much the building as a center.” She said a needs assessment done by RBEDI several years back identified the absence of such a gathering place as crucial.

But the building, which is slated to be auctioned Aug. 10 at a minimum bid of $800,000, isn’t the right place to start, several council members said.

“I think it’s a bad site for kids,” many of whom would have to cross heavily-traveled streets to reach it, said Councilman RJ Bifani.

“We need a center, with a pool,” said Council President Sharon Lee. “But it’s the citizens who really need to make a commitment to this — to paying for it.”

Bifani also objected to any discussion at this point of how the proceeds of the sale might be used, after Mayor Pasquale Menna and other members of the council reiterated earlier leanings toward applying some of it to tax relief and some of it to expanded recreational programs in town.

“I don’t want to get into how we’re going to spend that money when we don’t even have that money,” Bifani said. All taxpayers have a special interest or pet issue, he said, whether it be lower taxes, historic preservation, road programs or otherwise. For the council to make a commitment now to allocate the same proceeds to a future community center would be premature, he said.

The discussion dovetailed with news last night that the borough was moving ahead with plans to demolish the old incinerator at the western end of Sunset Avenue, where a park is envisioned. That might be a good site in the future for a community center, Bifani suggested.

Sean Murphy of Throckmorton Avenue urged the council to get the best price it could for the structure. He noted that Red Bank is home to more tax-exempt properties than any other town in Monmouth County.

“If we can get one more that’s not paying any taxes off the books, it’s a move in the right direction,” he said.

In response to a question from GOP council candidate John Tyler, Menna said that the Community YMCA will continue to offer its programs elsewhere. “They will be accomodated,” he said of the pre-schoolers and primary school aged kids who use the facility.

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