Outrage over social conditions that some citizens linked to last month’s double shootings at the Montgomery Terrace public-housing project pushed the idea of a community center back to a front burner last night.
Mayor Pasquale Menna announced that he’d name a task force by the end of the year to shape a recommendation about where to locate a center, who would run it, and how it would be financed. He said he anticipates the committee would have seven members and complete its work in 30 to 60 days, handing the idea over to the council for action.
The suddenly revived community center idea, which Councilman John Curley last week said was in limbo since a high-profile presentation before the council two months ago, stood out among a list of measures Menna said had been or would soon be adopted to quell worries about crime throughout the town, but particularly on the West Side.
“I think there is some urgency to the idea of having some sort of center where family values can be channeled,” Menna told a nearly-full room of onlookers in the council chambers. “I think the time has come to earnestly look at what is lacking in, I guess, the reasoning process of many of our young people.”
The idea for such a center came up this summer from resident David Prown, a children’s activist and business owner who later rallied support for a plan to stop the borough from selling a two-story building at the corner of Bridge Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard. Once the home of Bizarro’s Bar, the building was most recently rented from the town by the Count Basie Learning Center, an arm of the Community YMCA. The learning center moved out earlier this year.
Two attempts by the borough to auction the building at a minimum bid of $800,000 had failed to attract even one bidder.
In October, Prown won a strong indication of interest in running a community center from the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County. Such an arrangement could cost the borough as little as $47,000 a year, he estimated.
But several council sessions packed with apparent proponents of the plan failed to move the governing body to quick action. They cited concerns over the location a high traffic corner and costs. Curley, as the council’s liaison to the Parks & Rec department, was charged with coming up with a firm plan and proposal for the council to consider.
Menna said after last night’s session that the council was never opposed to the idea, but only had questions about whether the Basie location was appropriate, what it would cost and how its creation would be implemented.
He said that the borough might have to put the management of the center, as envisioned by Prown, up for bid.
Resident Linda Clark urged the council to move quickly.
“I’m getting tired of all the meetings,” she said. “It’s a matter of what’s going to be done?”
Councilman Mike DuPont said the task force’s job “shouldn’t be complicated.
“The time is now,” he said. “We have the initiative and the need. We just need to iron out the financing.”