RED BANK: SENIOR CENTER DEBATE RAGES ON

A view into the mothballed Senior Center through a window in December. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topic red bank njRed Bank council members clashed yet again over the borough’s Senior Center Wednesday night.

Among the issues: a petition demanding that the facility, which has been out of commission for almost two years, be repaired and reopened at its riverfront location.

A screenshot from the council’s workshop session, conducted via Zoom. (Click to enlarge.)

The setting was the council’s monthly workshop session, a forum at which no official votes may be taken.

Councilman Michael Ballard asked that a resolution be added to the agenda of the next public meeting, scheduled for February 10. Backed by a petition that he said had more than 200 signatures, the resolution called on the council to repair and reopen the Senior Center, he said.

The Shrewsbury Avenue building, which overlooks the Navesink River, has been closed for most of the past two years, first as a result of damage from a burst pipe in the fire suppression system, and soon after, over other safety concerns discovered during an inspection, Business Administrator Ziad Shehady has said.

Shehady, who opposes spending to get the 25-year-old building reopened, has said it would cost “several hundred thousand” more dollars to do so, for repairs not covered by an insurance policy the borough has already collected on.

Ballard said the petition reflects the will of the borough residents.

“Over 200 residents have told us what they would like to do with their tax money,” Ballard said. “They want the Senior Center repaired right where it is. I’m not sure why we’re being so disrespectful to our residents. Let’s put it on the agenda.”

Mayor Pasquale Menna said he agreed that the resolution should be posted on the agenda.

But four other members of the all-Democratic council resisted. As they have in the past, they pointed to an ongoing review of all municipal properties by the Redevelopment Agency, an advisory board.

The agency grew out of a 2018 study of borough operations that found municipal government was “paralyzed in addressing its redevelopment issues,” including of its own assets.

One aim of the agency’s creation was to “take politics out of decisions,” said Councilwoman Kate Triggiano.

“We have a petition for a skatepark in town that has gotten more resident signatures. Would you find it right of me to come to a council meeting and ask for an unhealthy process going forward for that, and just skip over an entire agency that’s been tasked to do the work,” she ased Councilman Ed Zipprich, who has allied on the issue with Ballard.

Zipprich did not directly address the question.

Triggiano suggested forwarding the petition to the Redevelopment Agency, along with what she termed “healthy parameters” the agency should take into account, including the value the borough places on the center’s riverfront location.

Triggiano, a first-term council member who was appointed liaison to the Senior Center on January 1, was backed by Council President Hazim Yassin and members Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom.

“That’s all fine and good,” Zipprich said of Triggiano’s suggestion, “but the most important thing is that we are looking at a senior population that is very anxious to be back together to be able to socialize after this pandemic.

“We’re probably looking at 7 to 10 years to build a new facility,” he said. “Many of these people will have passed on.”

Yassin said his personal preference “would be to build a new, better facility on the same site, but don’t want to make a decision without all the data.”

Last month, the council unanimously approved a three-year lease at Trinity Episcopal Church, on West Front Street, to serve as an interim senior recreation facility once pandemic restrictions ease, allowing seniors and others to congregate indoors there. For now, Senior Center officials are visiting them at their homes.

During¬† public comment, Tiffaney Harris, a former Senior Center outreach worker who was instrumental in getting the petition and resolution together, told the council she’s “all for” the center being rebuilt, “but let’s get it done.”

But Lendon Ebbins, of Oakland Street, argued that “200 signatures is not a lot.” She said she agreed that the pace of the Redevelopment Agency’s review should be faster, but said that its work should continue to conclusion.

“I think we do have a responsibility to know the costs to the town and the options available,” she said.

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