By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Red Bank’s former PS5 is about to go back to school.
The borough zoning board last week gave preliminary approval for Acelero Learning to set up its Head Start pre-K program on the ground floor of the former public school at 144 Drs. James Parker Boulevard.
Acelero officials say they hope eventually to expand the program into the second floor, which is now occupied by S.O.M.E. Architects under a lease with a partnership that bought the building three years ago from the Community YMCA for $1.3 million.
Acelero officials, who’ve run the program in the basement of Mt. Zion House of Prayer since 2005, say they have been looking for years to move into a place that would allow it to cut down, if not eliminate, an enrollment waiting list.
The 36 current students will move into the larger space and also have the benefit of a small outdoor play area, which Mt. Zion doesn’t have. Starting with two classrooms on the first floor and with the potential to add two more classrooms and a kitchen on the second floor, Head Start can likely erase its 50-child waiting list by doubling its learning capacity to about 65 children, officials say.
“The church is very good to us there but (it’s) very small,” said Dom Trocchia, who oversees operations for Acelero, the Asbury Park-based company that runs Head Start. He said at the new location, “We can help more families and more children in the program.”
Acelero has shown interest in a 10-year lease with an option to buy, said Mike Simpson, a partner with both S.O.M.E. and PS Five LLC, the building owner.
S.O.M.E. moved from Monmouth Street to the building’s second floor in September, 2007 with the hope of pioneering an economic resurgence in an area Simpson considers one of Red Bank’s gateways.
Following a failed push to purchase the borough-owned building on the corner of Drs. James Parker and Bridge Avenue that is now home to the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County, Simpson said PS Five and Head Start began talking about the possibility of bringing the growing program into his building and restoring it to its former glory as an institution of learning. The benefit seemed logical for both sides, he said.
For PS Five, it’ll accomplish what it set out to do in 2006 when it purchased the building: having a first-floor tenant paying rent to help offset the mortgage cost. Aside from an eight-month period when Simpson’s wife ran her physical therapy business, the first floor has been vacant.
“Basically we have been sucking wind on the mortgage payments,” Simpson said. “It’s a sign of the times. In between 2006 and 2009 we had a lot of discussions with lots of possible tenants in the building and we couldn’t get a single one.”
Because a potential sale of the building to Head Start could be as soon as next year or as far away as a decade from now, Simpson said he hasn’t considered where his firm might move to next. In 2007, shortly after the building was purchased, he admitted he was taking a risk. On Monday he said his vision that S.O.M.E.’s presence would spark positive growth on Red Bank’s west side portal got waylaid by one of the worst economic collapses in modern history.
“If I had had the ability to see the economic bus that was driving through America in 2006, I’d be a genius and a very wealthy man,” said Simpson, a former chairman of Red Bank RiverCenter. “But that information didn’t exist at that time. I didn’t create the economy, I’ve just got to deal with it.”
So working this deal with Head Start was a business decision that had to be made in today’s climate, Simpson said. And if he has his way, S.O.M.E. will stay in Red Bank.
“At this point we have no plans to bug out of town you know, running and screaming from Red Bank,” he said. “Why not give an opportunity to a successful preschool program in Red Bank? To me it’s a win-win situation.”