BACK IN PLAY: A COMMUNITY CENTER

Noble prownCommunity center proponents Peter Noble, president of the Red Bank Board of Ed, and David Prown after Monday's borough council session, which ran for almost three hours, as suggested by the clock in the background.

After nearly three months of relative silence, borough officials reopened discussion last night on whether Red Bank should create a community center for adolescents and teens.

This time, there was more talk than in the past about the need for a swimming pool and gymnasium, two elements that officials acknowledge may be far beyond the ability of taxpayers to support.

Though the question of how to proceed dominated what turned out to be a nearly three-hour-long meeting, no decision was reached.

Much as the issue got its impetus from a double shooting at the Montgomery Terrace apartments in November 2007, this month's double homicide on Locust Avenue added an air of urgency to establish a place that offers youngsters what primary school employee Sandra Davis called "a sense of belonging" that's been lost amid deteriorating family structures.

Others invoke the specter of gangs as the street's answer to that need.

"Swimming pool? Gymnasium? No. They need something to stimulate their minds," said resident Linda Clark. "The gangs are here, the guns are here, and the kids have them."

The town has a building in mind for the center that even backers acknowledge is less than ideal because of its size and location — the corner of Bridge Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard. Now vacant, the two-story former site of Bizarro's bar was most recently used as the Count Basie Learning Center.

But they say it's a good place to start, much as the Red Bank Senior Citizens' Center began in a building behind the municipal garage years ago before getting its own place on Shrewsbury Avenue.

The borough government has obtained two proposals to create and manage a center, including one from the well-regarded Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County, which offered to operate a center at no charge to the borough.

But architect Mike Simpson of S.O.M.E. Architects and George Kolber, owners of the former PS5 school building next to the proposed site, insist the structure is too small to be used as a community center for teens. Instead, they reiterated their offer to buy the structure and install a Head Start program for tots there.

Simpson urged an effort to bring together organizations that already have athletic facilities, including St. Anthony's Chuch, the Salvation Army and the Community YMCA, to offer up them up to kids who need them.

A competing proposal by the Y to manage community center programming has gotten a lukewarm reception from the council as well as some residents. But Mayor Pasquale Menna appeared to urge a second look.

"The YMCA right now is undergoing a fantastic renaissance," he said. "I'm just wondering if we should engage in a constructive dialogue regarding the use of the Y" before the town locks itself into a deal with the Boys & Girls club, he said.

"We should also look at other options, which may accomplish the goal of a swimming pool," Menna said.

"I'm definitely concerned about the location," said Councilwoman Sharon Lee. "There's nothing to do but fall into the street — that's my concern. But it is a facility and could give our young people some shelter. That's what we're looking for."

Board of Ed president Peter Noble told the council that the board is "doing everything humanly possible to educate our children," and implored it to look past the shortcomings of the proposed site so that those efforts can be supplemented b a community center.

"Give us a chance," he said. "Give us something to start with."

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