CULTURAL CENTER GOES UP-DEMO, AGEWISE

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Starting next month, Diney’s Place/The Children’s Cultural Center won’t be just for kids anymore.

Turns out that investing a ton of money to transform the former Red Bank municipal building and police station into a learning center full of digital technology for kids 11 and under hasn’t paid off as well as the folks at the Community YMCA expected.

Even with art and dance classes for Red Bank Catholic students, the grand old red-brick building with the awesome arched portico is “pretty quiet” most of the day, someone who works there tells redbankgreen.

And after school â?? well, ditto. With Mom and Dad both at work, who’s going to transport little Johnny or Jasmine to the downtown center in the middle of the afternoon and then pick him or her up a couple of hours later?

“For working families, it’s just tough to get them here,” says Gary Laermer, president and chief executive of the Y, parent of the cultural center.

One result? “Participation hasn’t been as good as we would have liked,” says Sean Byrnes, a member of the Y’s board of directors and its former chairman.

Another? Well, even though the nonprofit Y got the Monmouth Street building from the borough for just $1 in 2002, it’s got a $1 million mortgage on it, according to Monmouth County records. That’s got be met.

So it’s time for Plan B, which calls for bringing in some culture-hungry geezers, relatively speaking.

Starting next month, the center will begin offering classes designed to attract teenagers and adults, redbankgreen has learned.

That means, in addition to the existing curriculum, new classes with listed age ranges of “10 to adult” (cartooning, printmaking, and “book writing,” for example), as well as a smattering for teens and adults (“drum circle,” and a class called “gifting.”)

There are also some offerings for adults only (website design, overcoming Internet anxiety and “Lasting Lifestyles: A cutting-edge model of health and wellness, supporting and addressing the needs of the whole person.”)

Here’s the course catalog: Download cultural_center_catalog_4q07.pdf. Classes are priced from $25 to $150, with different fees for Y members and non-members.

Will an 8-year-old feel comfortable taking a Saturday origami class with a 70-year-old, and vice-versa? More important, will the center be able to attract enough part-time workers and retirees to make the place hum during the day? Laermer admits that he doesn’t know, but says he’s willing to give it a shot.

“We continue to tweak and design programs that we hope will be appealing,” he says. “It’s a bit of a process, but we’re sticking to it, and trying to make sure that the offerings are meaningful.”

Earlier this year, the center expanded its programming to include science and robotics classes for kids 8 to 13. There are also pottery, painting, claymation and digital recording studios in the vast, brightly lighted building.

This is just the latest in a series of fires the Y has been busy fighting lately, Byrnes tells us. In recent months, the board and staff were focused on boosting membership at Camp Arrowhead in Marlboro, which, like many summer camps, has suffered enrollment dropoffs in recent years. That situation was brought under better control through cost cutting and other measures this summer, he says.

Meantime, the cultural center’s longtime executive director, Tricia Schaeffer, left early this summer and has not yet been replaced.

Now, the cultural center — which is named for the late philanthropist Nadine ‘Diney’ Goldsmith — has moved to the top of the board’s agenda, Byrnes says. Among the strategies under consideration, the board is “looking at collaborations with other nonprofits to help pay the bills,” says Byrnes. “We’re trying to forge relationships to see if any else has interest” in holding related programs in the building.

But contrary to some buzz we heard around town, the building is not for sale, says Laermer. It’s assessed at $1.86 million, though it’s not on the tax rolls.

Here’s a little background on the building from the Red Bank Visitor Center website:

The Romanesque Revival structure was designed by Robert D. Chandler, a local architect, and built in 1892. When Red Bank was incorporated as a borough in 1908, the building was used as the Borough Hall, and later as the Police Station. It fell into disuse after the Borough Hall moved to 32 Monmouth St. in 1958. The Borough sold the building to The Children’s Cultural Center for $1, with the stipulation that it never be used for any other purpose. It has been extensively renovated and retrofitted.

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