The Haddonfield Board of Education is set to vote tonight on a letter of intent to purchase the nearly 19-acre Bancroft property on Kings Highway East.
The borough Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the letter of intent last week. The letter launches a 45-day process for the borough and the school board to appraise the property and draft an agreement of sale with Bancroft, a center for the developmentally disabled and acquired brain injuries.
The $12.2 million purchase price is part of a $16.8 million plan to acquire the property, which is adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School, demolish existing buildings there, construct an artificial turf athletic field and install an artificial surface on the existing football stadium field.
The purchase will also preserve open space adjacent to a nearby county park along Cooper River. Reaction to the plan has generally been positive in two other public meetings on it this month. Frequent objections have been raised about the athletic fields, however.
"This has been a long haul and I'm proud to be here tonight," Kim Custer, a borough resident who has long campaigned to buy the property to preserve open space, said at a public meeting on July 18. "This is where we wanted to be and I'll be the first person out there cheerleading for that property, but the $2 million proposal for turf is extremely controversial. We've worked too hard to lose this over a turf field. Get the acquisition and lets worry about the development of turf or grass another time."
But a group of residents known as the turf field committee has raised over $250,000 in private donations, with a goal of $500,000 before the end of the year, to install artificial turf at the football stadium and an adjacent borough-owned field. The borough and school board have agreed to kick in just over $500,000 for the $1 million project. If the committee raises enough money, it will eliminate $800,000 from $2 million earmarked for turf and other athletic facilities improvements in the Bancroft plan.
Officials argue the turf will reduce maintenance costs and increase the use of the fields because the artificial surface is more durable than grass.
"Installing one turf field is like installing two to three grass fields because you can use them all the time," Joe Del Duca, of the turf field committee, said in a meeting on July 23. "I'm not going to tell you it's a perfect solution, but it’s the best solution."
The school board is also scheduled to meet in closed session, not open to the public, before the meeting. One of the topics of discussion will be the district's 24/7 student discipline rules. A similar policy by a North Jersey school district was ruled to be illegal last week by the state Appellate Court.
Haddonfield school officials said last week the ruling could put their plan in jeopardy. Three former students have sued the district over the policy, which barred them from extracurricular activities. The student's attorney said a settlement of a ruling in the suit could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars. An attorney for the district rejected that claim.