YMCA defends use of skate park grant

Critic says Y should raise the funds or give back $75K grant


Staff Writer

In response to questions posed by residents and local officials, Community YMCA of Red Bank Director Richard Pollock explained how the funds granted by the state Department of Community Affairs were spent.

The YMCA was awarded a $75,000 Special Legislative Grant in 2001 toward the cost of building a skateboard park on its Maple Avenue property.

After gaining Zoning Board approval in 2003, the YMCA set the project aside as too costly, and the park has never been built.

Resident Albert Larotunda of Spring Street, Councilmen John Curley and Pasquale Menna and Assemblyman Michael Panter have all contacted Pollock and the DCA with questions about how the $75,000 was spent and whether the YMCA was obligated to build the park since it had accepted the funding.

Pollock said the grant was used in total for design and engineering costs, fees to the borough and the county, and staff hours.

“The grant funds were all directly used to support design and construction of the skate park,” Pollock stated in a letter. “The YMCA has complied with the terms of the grant.”

Pollock estimated that $42,000 (56 percent of the grant) was spent on engineering fees to Maser Consulting, $6,500 for design consultation, $12,400 in borough application fees, $1,450 in other fees and permits, and $13,000 in staff time.

According to DCA spokesman E.J. Miranda, the YMCA was under no obligation to build the park if it was out of the financial reach of the organization.

Pollock said that when the project was first conceptualized, the estimated cost was about $250,000. In addition to the grant money, the YMCA would have had to raise $175,000 to fund the project.

According to Pollock, that money was never raised.

Pollock said that by the time the board granted approval for the project, the cost of materials had risen dramatically, and the project had an estimated cost of $350,000 to $450,000.

“Two years elapsed from inception of the project to receiving approval and permits from the borough of Red Bank, during which time the estimated cost to complete the project has almost doubled. A scaled-back version was considered but not pursued since it would have been mediocre at best.”

In the spring of 2002, the Red Bank YMCA merged with both The Children’s Cultural Center and the Count Basie Achievement Center, investing more than $2 million in the Cultural Center alone.

Larotunda maintains that the YMCA failed to meet the requirements of the grant and raise the balance of the funding necessary to build the skateboard park.

When asked why the YMCA would invest funds in two other projects without having raised money to complete a project that was in the process of approval, Pollock said that the skate park project was already postponed indefinitely at that point.

“If someone else wishes to finance the project,” said Pollock in an interview Friday, “we have current approval, but I think it expires at the end of this year.”

Pollock said the cultural center is only being temporarily funded by the Red Bank YMCA, while volunteers from the center continue to raise money for the project.

Pollock maintains that by investing in the two other projects, the YMCA will be able to reach more local children and have a broader impact on the community.

The YMCA is also currently raising funds for construction of a new $8 million facility in Old Bridge.

But Pollock said that while the YMCA is fund-raising for the Old Bridge branch, it has not allocated funds to it.

“In 2003,” Pollock’s letter read, “The Community YMCA, through its Red Bank Branch and the Count Basie Achievement Center, provided services valued at $286,466 to 1,330 individuals through YCares, a financial assistance program that ensures anyone seeking services or programs offered by the YMCA will have access to them, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Larotunda remains unconvinced that everything that could have been done to get the skate park built was, in fact, done.

“If the YMCA doesn’t want to build the park, that’s their prerogative. But, then they should return the money and it should be given to an organization that will,” he said Friday. “They had a budget and written obligation with the DCA.”

Larotunda said that the YMCA should have asked the DCA for an additional grant, or should give the money back to the DCA so that the grant can be given to an organization that would raise funds to build the facility.

“It’s like getting a loan from a bank to build a house,” he said. “You have to show you have financial capability and technical expertise. You have to build something; you just don’t say it’s too expensive.”

According to Larotunda, the cost of building the skate park could have been lower. He said the Borough of Highlands constructed a facility for $75,000.

DCA Commissioner Susan Bass-Levin, in a letter to Assemblymen Panter and Dr. Robert Morgan, defended the YMCA’s handling of the grant.

“The Community YMCA of Red Bank appears to have used the $75,000 Special Legislative Grant in accordance with legislative intent,” stated Bass-Levin in a letter dated Nov. 5. “The YMCA Board of Directors abandoned the project due to the excessive cost of construction and maintenance. It is reasonable to assume that should the Community YMCA identify adequate funding to support resurrection of the project, that such costs would not be factored into the proposed budget.”