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HEAD START BACKERS ANGLE FOR BUILDING

KolberGeorge Kolber speaks; Councilman Art Murphy listens.

Throwing a possible speed bump in the path of the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County, the owners of the recently repurposed former PS 5 on Drs. James Parker Boulevard last night asked the Red Bank Council not to turn the borough-owned building next door into a community center.

At just 4,800 square feet, the building cannot reasonably accommodate all the programs that the Boys and Girls Club — the leading contender to run such a center — has proposed installing there, they said.

Moreover, the location, at the busy corner of Bridge Avenue, with no parking available, makes the facility untenable for that use, George Kolber and Mike Simpson said.

Instead, Kolber and Simpson want to buy the structure, which has been vacant for more than a year, and turn it into a home for an oversubscribed Head Start program now based nearby at Calvary Baptist Church Mt. Zion House of Prayer on Catherine Street.

“A community center, while well-intended, is not the best use of this property,” said Kolber, a Middletown resident.

Img_8386The former Count Basie Learning Center, a site that proponents favor as the future home of a community center.

The partners in PS Five LLC said they would create parking for 25 cars for the site if they were able to buy it at auction. The Head Start program would be run by Acelero Learning, which now has 36 pre-school children enrolled at the Mt. Zion site and a waiting list for another 37, said Margaret Morales, an Acelero representative.

Kolber said the plan has the backing of the nearby AME Zion Church.

The proposal was the first pubic airing of a plan that Kolber said he and Simpson have been pitching to borough officials since last January — prior to the formation, Kolber said, of the Community Center Task Force headed by Councilman Mike DuPont.

Kolber complained that he had not been consulted by members of the governing body nor the task force. DuPont “never reached out to us. Never,” he said prior to the council meeting, an assertion that DuPont appeared to contradict later on.

“At minimum, they should have responded to me,” said Kolber, bearing copies of letters he sent to the mayor and council. “At the end of the day, we think we have a better solution. We just want the thing adequately vetted.”

Task force member David Prown said afterward that he was aware of the partners’ interest in the buiding, but added that the group’s charge had been to consider the viability and possible location of a community center, not to decide the fate of the structure.

The borough twice tried to auction the building off in 2007 at a minimum bid of $800,000, but no bids emerged. Kolber and Simpson, who were the only members of the public to show up for the auctions, maintain that’s because the appraisal on which the bid floor was based was flawed.

“I’m here to tell you we are interested in buying the building at a market rate and will put Head Start in there,” Kolber told the mayor and council. Acelero has agreed to sign a 10-year lease, he said.

The partners sought to underscore that a sale of the building to them would put the structure, most recently leased to the Count Basie Learning Center, back on the tax rolls, just as they had put the long-vacant schoolhouse next door back on the tax rolls. Simpson’s firm, S.O.M.E. Architects, is the primary tenant.

The proceeds of the sale and taxes could be dedicated to the cost of providing many of the services proposed by the Boys and Girls Club to borough children at the Community YMCA, which Kolber said repeatedly is “only four or five blocks away” and thus within walking distance of the corner site.

Community Y Executive Director Gary Laermer assured the council that the Y would work with the town to provide whatever services it could to borough children.

But Councilwoman Sharon Lee appeared to raise doubts about installing any program geared toward children in the building, and invoked its past as a tavern before the town took over the problem in a license action.

“I think that’s the worst corner on the planet for a community center,” she said. “It was a bad place for a bar.”

She also said that while Head Start is “a great program, we really need to support our older children.”

Councilman Jim Giannell said he’d like to see the building back on the tax rolls, and suggested a new appraisal be done. “We’re just inundated with tax-exempt properties here,” he said.

The task force has recommended that the council sign a deal with the Boys and Girls Club to set up and run a community center, but Mayor Pasquale Menna said he doesn’t expect any action on the plan before next year.

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