COMMUNITY CENTER PLANS SEPTEMBER DEBUT

rb-comm-ctrSisters Violet, 14, and Yanna Preston, 17, are the first members of the planned community center and will be trained as recruiters. That’s center director Robert Taylor in the background. (Click to enlarge)

Growing up, Yanna and Violet Preston spent countless hours at the Count Basie Learning Center on Drs. James Parker Boulevard in Red Bank.

But the borough-owned building, located next door to their home on Bridge Avenue, has been vacant for the past two years, an interim in which the town twice tried to sell it and failed to attract a single bid.

Meantime, squirrels made themselves at home in the structure, and dozens of kids who used to rely on it as a safe place for educational activities offered by the Community YMCA had to make do elsewhere.

Now, though, a campaign to revive the building by turning it into a  community center is on the verge of completion. And this week, the Preston sisters were not only the first to sign up as members, but have volunteered to serve as youth recruiters for the facility.

“I’m looking forward to the fact that there will be someplace to go,” says Violet. “In Red Bank, there’s nothing to do but go to Count Basie Field, and that gets boring.”

Already, staffers at the facility, to be run by the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County, are referring to the Preston sisters as “our resident experts.” But over the next six weeks, club president Robert Taylor and his crew expect to become intimately familiar with the building as well.

Once the location of Bizarro’s bar, a trouble-plagued watering hole that the town acquired in a legal action, the building is now being transformed into a series of brightly colored¬† rooms to host a range of educational and recreational programs for after-school and non-school hours, include homework help, computer skills training, social skills development and games.

Over two days this week, some 30 employees of the Millenium Group, taking time away from their work at the document management company in Tinton Falls, repainted the interior, replaced drop ceiling elements and cleaned carpets.

On a quick tour for redbankgreen yesterday, Taylor showed off a vivid green second-floor space that he plans to turn into a computer lab, complete with donated equipment and furniture.

“Everything got painted. Everything is clean and fresh,” he said. “This is huge. It gives us a great start.”

The Millenium volunteers and their employer also gave the center a $1,200 donation, which Taylor says will cover memberships for 120 children.

The still-nameless center will open on September 14, Taylor says. It will operate at no cost to the borough other than utility, insurance and related costs, backers say.