An ad-hoc committee that wants to see an empty borough-owned building on the West Side used as a community center last night pitched the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County as an ideal organization to run an after-school programming there.
The availability of the two-story structure at the corner of Drs. James Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue puts the town in “an amazingly fortunate position” to create at least the beginnings of a grander community or recreation center for the borough’s kids, said activist David Prown.
And the Boys & Girls Club, with its long experience, national scope and fundraising prowess, would be an ideal candidate to run the space at little cost to the town, he said.
“It would not cost the Red Bank taxpayers one penny” in programming costs, Prown said. “This is a professional organization.”
The club’s chief professional officer, Robert Taylor of Atlantic Highlands, said the organization is able and eager to fill a widely acknowledged void: a place for Red Bank kids to be engaged in ways that will keep them off the streets and prey to the seductions of gangs, drugs and crime.
“It’s a fit,” Taylor told the council, referring to the site and his organization. “It’s what we do as an organization. We put somebody in there who’s in charge.”
The specific recommendation of the club followed a brief presentation by psychologist and former Board of Ed member Dr. Diana Salvador, who said that, as a founding member of the now-dormant Red Bank Education and Development Initiative, a community center was “at the top of our list” of priorities.
She cited three studies over six years including one by the RBEDI that reinforced, with data, the notion that too many of the borough’s kids are living far below the federal poverty level and feel exposed to the influence of gangs, drug dealers and other types of predators.
“They’re out there walking the streets, but don’t feel safe,” she said. “Many admit to carrying pocket knives and/or pepper spray.” Some have reported to surveyors that they have been “followed” by unspecified adults, she said.
“The kids are asking for our help. They asking for the opportunity to have more programming in our town,” she said.
Prown ran through several potential scenarios under which the borough might create a community center, including partnering with an outside organization that would foot the bill for staffing, run the programming and be responsible for raising all necessary funds.
If the borough was responsible for maintaining the building and hiring someone to oversee the operation, it would cost about $120,000 a year, he estimated. But if a club were to bring in its own staff, the borough’s costs would drop to about $47,000 a year, representing utility, insurance and other expenses related solely to ownership of the property, he said.
Because the committee was working under a tight deadline, it considered only the two organizations that had expressed interest in the site, the Community YMCA, which recently closed a pre-school facility in the building, and the Boys & Girls Club, Prown said.
In response to a question from Celestine Stone of Leighton Avenue about the borough’s level of commitment to the idea of a center, Mayor Pasquale Menna said that “the general consensus of all members of the council is that we need a community center or a rec center of some type.
“We are working toward that goal,” he said.
But the members of the governing body seemed guarded about the proposal. Several questioned who was on the committee and whether it represented the thinking of the Parks & Rec Committee, to which Councilman John Curley is the liaison. Curley said the group was an informal mix of residents of Parks & Rec employees, but that the department itself was behind the idea.
Others noted that a great deal of examination, starting with the ad hoc committee’s analysis, would have to be done to determine the actual costs and viability of the request.
Without taking formal action, the council appeared to reject a demand by Curley that the governing body indicate its general preference for moving forward with the Boys & Girls Club within 30 days.