Img_3231The white building at far right and other property is available for a community center, says Rev. Terrence K. Porter.

The push for the creation of a Red Bank community center has a new element to it: an offer of free land on the West Side.

The Pilgrim Baptist Church on Shrewsbury Avenue is willing to donate property it owns next door to its house of worship as the site of community center, says church pastor Rev. Terrence K. Porter.

The property is just north of the church at Earl Street, and is occupied by two structures that the church uses for storage. With those structures removed, there’s enough room to accommodate a building to house a full-length basketball court, a computer lab, offices and other other space, Porter says.

“What we put on the table is that we would be open and receptive to participating with the city to build a community center,” Porter tells redbankgreen. “What we’re saying is that we have the land, and we’re willing to enter discussions about using the land.”

Community center advocate David Prown calls the offer “an amazingly generous and caring contribution. This church is really putting their money where their mouth is — big time kudos to them.”

Porter floated his idea during a discussion of community issues held last month at the Mount Zion House of Prayer, which several members of the Borough Council attended, and came to light Monday night at the council’s bimonthly meeting.

Porter told us the location is more central and accessible than the Salvation Army’s new facility on Newman Springs Road, and would serve “as a place where kids can find a place of safety” away from the temptations of the street.

We asked Porter if the facility would be a secular one. His response: “I prefer ‘multifunctional,’ with the sole purpose of benefitting the residents of Red Bank.”

Porter says he has not yet heard back from any member of the governing body, nor from the community center task force appointed Jan. 1 by Mayor Pasquale Menna.

The offer could significantly alter the discussion about whether and how to provide a recreational and educational after-school facility in town, a move that advocates see as critical to heading of potential crime while enriching the lives of kids.

So far, most of the public debate has focused on the pros and cons of converting the former Count Basie Learning Center at the corner of Drs. James Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue to a facility that could be used by kids after school and on weekends for recreation and learning. The borough owns the property.

Among the ideas floated was using the Basie structure as a starter facility until a larger new center could be built, perhaps on the site of the former borough incinerator on West Sunset Avenue.

But with the public clamor over rising taxes, any suggestions that carry significant pricetags are not likely to survive administration scrutiny, say people involved in the effort.

“Nothing will happen through the borough, as they clearly state they have no money,” says Prown, who serves on the steering committee. “However, there is no golden rule that a community center has to run through and/or be a part of the borough government.”

Porter says he understands that “no one has deep pockets in this economy,” and that various parties would have to coordinate to fund the facility’s construction. “I’m sure if we can come together, we can make this thing happen,” he says.

He adds that he plans to meet with state officials in an effort to identify possible funding sources for the project. “We’re willing to speak with anyone who can give us some direction and support to help us make this a reality,” Porter says.

The offer, he adds, is a kind of fulfillment of the vision of his predecessor, retired Rev. Millard Harris, who encouraged the Pilgrim Baptist congregation to acquire the adjacent properties for an unspecified future use.

“Knowing Rev. Porter and his commitment to this town and this issue, if the borough doesn’t grasp this olive branch, then he’ll offer it to another entity committed to the same vision,” says Prown.

On the community center task force are: Prown; Councilman Mike DuPont; Rev. D. Crist Northington; Brenda Terry; Wanda Holmes; Sean Murphy and Beth Hanratty. The committee will hold its second meeting next week; we’ll post the date, time and place here as soon as we have it.

Email this story