(MARK R. SULLIVAN/THE COAST STAR)

BRADLEY BEACH — The Friends of The Bradley Beach Community Center has released the results of a survey conducted by the nonprofit showing community support for turning the former First Methodist Church of Bradley Beach into a community center.

The borough purchased the historic church, located on LaReine Avenue, last year and since then there have been complaints from members of the public that the borough has put the rehabilitation of the building on the back burner.

According to the group, 189 survey responses were submitted representing the opinion of 450 individuals, 96 percent of whom were residents in Bradley Beach, either full or part time. The results showed that 82 percent of respondents said that the creation of a community center is “very important” or “most important” and 78 percent of respondents saying that their family members would use a community center if it is built.

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“It’s wonderful to see such strong support for the idea of building a community center in Bradley while, at the same time, preserving one of Bradley Beach’s few remaining historic buildings,” said Paul Neshamkin, president of the Friends of the Bradley Beach Community Center and president of the Bradley Beach Historical Society. “The Methodist Church building was constructed in 1900 on land donated by the borough’s founder, James A. Bradley, and sits in the geographic center of Bradley Beach – providing easy access for all residents.”

Of those who responded, 74 percent were in favor of preserving the building. Also, of the 189 total responses, 24 responses viewed the creation of a community center as unfavorable, with some responses urging the borough to sell the property.

Those who responded to the survey said they believe it is important for the borough to develop a community center, save a historic building, create community activities and create a space for performing arts, volunteer organizations and seniors.

The borough purchased the building, at 319 LaReine Ave., last February for $1.4 million on a 40-year bond. In 2019, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association had planned to sell the property to a housing developer, but the borough stepped in to purchase the building to prevent it from being demolished, in hopes of transforming it into a community center. The borough set up an ad-hoc committee of residents to chair a group to discuss the future of the property. At the end of last year, then-mayor Gary Engelstad resigned from the committee, citing his lack of support for the project and his belief it to be of too great an expense to the residents of Bradley Beach.

The topic came to a head in the last few weeks of the mayoral race in Bradley Beach against Councilman Al Gubitosi, who supported conducting feasibility studies as to what should be done with the property, and the eventual winner Larry Fox, who said during the campaign the borough should “take a hard step back and [ask] the community if they want to do this.”

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