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RED BANK: AS BLEACHERS PROJECT ADVANCES, QUESTIONS LINGER

 

red-bank-basie-field-press-box-041422-500x375-8810206The home-side grandstand at Count Basie Fields.  (Photo by John Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By BRIAN DONOHUE

A $1.1 million plan to replace the depression-era bleachers at Count Basie Fields sailed through introduction at the Borough Council last month, but state officials and members of a borough recreation committee continue to raise questions about the project.

(Photo by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

Two times over the past several years, the borough has applied for funds from the state Green Acres program to help cover replacement of the aging home-side bleachers. Both times, the state has rejected the application, according to minutes of the town’s parks and recreation committee meetings.

And now, the state appears to have questions about the borough’s third try, an application the borough filed in December. 

State officials have told the borough they won’t approve the grant unless the borough’s lease with the Red Bank Borough Board of Education – which expires in 2035, is extended for 25 years, according to meeting minutes and statements by members of the borough council.

The Red Bank Board of Education owns the complex and leases it to the borough for one dollar per year.

Red Bank Borough Schools Superintendent Jared Rumage said an email last week there have been no meetings or conversations so far about extending the lease. But he expects to have conversations soon about the long term use of the property, possibly over the summer. 

In the meantime, several members of the borough’s parks’ and recreation committee have also questioned whether borough taxpayers should be footing such a large portion of the bill for the bleachers replacement.

Under a bond ordinance introduced by the council last month, the borough would borrow $723,000 to augment the $500,000 state grant.  That ordinance is tentatively slated for public hearing and final vote at the council’s June 13 meeting.

The total cost of the project includes $575,000 to replace the 2,000-person capacity bleachers;  and $175,000 for a new press box.

In an online survey regarding the project conducted by the borough last year, 86 percent of the 36 respondents said they support the borough making improvement to the Count Basie Fields facilities.

  But many of the anonymous respondents also implored the borough to scale back the cost of the project or ask Red Bank Catholic High School, which leases the field for its sports programs, to contribute more  – especially for the press box. Many respondents noted that the bleachers are largely only filled near capacity for events held by RBC and other entities.

“Get RBC to fund it – Red Bank does not need a luxury high school stadium when we own our own stadium at RBR (Red Bank Regional High School),’’ one survey respondent wrote. “Red Bank needs to worry about Red Bank not RBC.”

Since the Borough Council approved the Green Acres application in December, those comments have also been echoed by members of the recreation committee itself.

Committee member Nicole Taetsch suggested the Green Acres money could be better spent elsewhere and the borough should ask RBC to pay more. 

“ The stands and the press box, I mean who uses that beyond Red Bank Catholic?” she said in an interview with redbankgreen. “Are we confident that we have exhausted all the revenue streams before we go to the taxpayers and we go out for another bond?”

Under the terms of a lease renewed in 2012, Red Bank Catholic High School pays the borough $80,000 a year to use the Count Basie fields for its sports programs. 

The lease also required an additional $50,000 a year contribution for capital improvements from 2012 to 2021. The lease expires at the end of 2025.

Council member Ben Forest, who serves as the council liaison to the recreation committee, said there are non RBC events, including the the Count Basie Cup soccer game and Middle School graduation – that bring hundreds of spectators. 

And the enclosed area below the bleachers serves as crucial storage area for borough recreation programs, he added.

“If we are to lose the stadium, we would have to buy or lease a replacement location for the storage,” he said.

 And he stressed the safety concerns, including a lack of railings in many areas of the bleachers, that make the replacement a must-do project for the borough.

He did not rule out asking Red Bank Catholic to contribute more, which he said he felt the school would be open to doing. The borough may have that chance when the current lease agreement expires at the end of 2025.

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