The idea of creating a community center at a Red Bank-owned building on the West Side is one that “needs plenty more discussion,” children’s activist David Prown told a crowded Borough Council meeting last night.
Then he proceeded to introduce more than a dozen speakers including social services providers, volunteers and average Joe residents who made the case for creating such a center, whether or not it is based in the soon-to-be vacated building at the corner of Drs. Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue.
Some invoked the specter of the recent triple homicide in Newark as a warning of what can happen when kids don’t have the kinds of services that a community center can provide.
A woman who volunteers with the Pop Warner football program lamented an absence of activities to engage boys after the season ends. Several speakers said they favored moving the the Parks & Rec Department to the site from its current offices in a trailer on Chestnut Street to boost program visibility and participation, while others envisioned it as a a clearinghouse of sorts for referrals for everything from healthcare to jobseeking.
What was unmistakable in it all was a sense of a void.
“There’s never that one central location where we can all grow,” Linda Clark, of River Street, told the council. “Even if this is not the one, I think we have a lot of people behind you guys to find that one location.”
“The West Side area is a place in need. You guys have an opportunity to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” said Middletown resident Robert Taylor, representing the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County. “We’re here today to say we want to be a partner to help the most disadvantaged kids in Red Bank.”
“I don’t know if this is the right building,” said Ben Forest, a Locust Avenue resident and member of the Board of Education. “But I can say the objective is the right thing.”
The outpouring came in the wake of the second failed attempt in four months by the borough to sell the building at a minimum price of $800,000. An auction held last Friday attracted no bids.
The structure, home to a troubled bar that the borough shut down and confiscated in the early 1990s, is now home to the Count Basie Learning Center, which rents it for $1 a year and is scheduled to move out this month, though its lease runs through next March. The learning center is relocating its programs to the Community YMCA operations on Maple Avenue.
Prown began lobbying the council last month to put the brakes on the proposed building sale, with the idea that the two-story structure could serve as a starter facility for a larger and more comprehensive community center to be built in the future.
But he found no support among elected officials, who said it was a poor choice for a such a facility because of it’s location along a heavily-trafficked street and the absence of parking at the site.
Council President Sharon Lee said at the time that while she favored the idea of a full community center with a pool and basketball courts, residents would have to make the cost of building and maintaining such a facility a priority.
By contrast, last night’s pleas were met by no opposing voices from elected officials. Mayor Pasquale Menna said he had three meetings scheduled this week with organizations interested in the issue.
“Utlimately, our decisions are based on a lot of information gathering,” Menna told the audience. “I am grateful to you all for bringing this dialogue to the table. There’s a broader picture here. We all have an obligation to listen to you comments.”
He added that “nothing will be done precipitously.” Later, in response to a question from Prown, Menna said that no sale of the building would occur until the council has had an opportunity to publicly discuss its options.
Councilman John Curley said a desire for action is evident.
“There is a concern, an honest concern, to find places for our children,” he said. “We need walls in this community to create programs” within.