The borough Board of Education and Board of Commissioners, in separate meetings Tuesday, approved an agreement of sale to purchase the 19-acre Bancroft property on Kings Highway East for $12.2 million.
Both meetings were sparsely attended, with less than 10 people at each, but still produced some pointed questions about the Bancroft purchase, part of a $16.9 million bond referendum in January to buy and redevelop the parcel adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School.
Sherry Gallagher, a Chews Landing Road resident, pressed school board President Steve Weinstein about an appraisal of the property that placed its value at $15.1 million. That amount nearly doubled an $8 million appraisal in 2005.
"I think the appraiser used a failed comparison method," Gallagher said. "The planning board and zoning board have never permitted that type of build-out for Bancroft. To make that assumption for a property that is not zoned for institutional is not a valid comparison."
Last week, Weinstein cited the institutional use of the property, as opposed to a residential use assumption for the 2005 appraisal, is what helped boost the property value from then to now.
Gallagher also questioned why the new 75-page appraisal was not available before a school board meeting last Thursday in which the appraiser, Harry Renwick, presented his findings to the board and the public in another sparely attended meeting.
"We had a public meeting in which the appraiser presented these questions," Weinstein said. "If we need, we could always have him come back."
The school board meeting Tuesday was a special meeting with only the sale agreement on the agenda. Weinstein said the agreement was not ready to be presented during the regular board meeting last week.
Cathy Freeman, a former borough school board member, asked Weinstein and the board about the total cost of the referendum.
"This community is giving you the authority to spend $16.9 million and I'm confused with when you say you're not sure about the open-space funding and you won't go out for bond," Freeman said.
Weinstein admitted the board may not know how much the bond could be reduced by the Jan. 22 referendum.
The final cost of the project may be reduced by open-space preservation funding from the county and state and a private initiative to raise $500,000 to pay for half the cost of installing artificial turf at the high-school football stadium and an adjacent field owned by the borough. The borough and school board have agreed to pay the balance if the private effort reaches its goal.
That could reduce the bond issue by $800,000, the cost of the stadium turf. Nearly $2 million is included in the referendum for artificial turf at the stadium and to construct a new athletic field with artificial turf.
The borough has about $600,000 in an open-space tax fund and a commitment from the county for $500,000 in open-space funds, which could reduce the bond issue by another $1 million.
Borough Commissioner Ed Borden said Tuesday that the borough has about $2 million in committed funds for open-space preservation. It was not immediately clear where the additional $1 million will come from. The borough must match each dollar the county or state contributes for open space to qualify for the grants.
The school board unanimously approved the agreement after an hour-long public comment during the meeting at the middle school library. The vote was 6-0, with board members Maureen Eyles, Drew Hansen and Dennis Kelleher absent.
The borough commissioners also approved the agreement unanimously during a regular meeting at the Municipal Hall. All three commissioners were present.
The borough and school board have agreed to a joint effort to buy the Bancroft property. The borough is the designated developer of the redevelopment zone for the property, but the school board will issue the bond if voters approve. Another reason for the joint effort is the school board can not apply for open-space grants and the borough can.
Bancroft is a center for the developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries. It has occupied the Kings Highway East property for 128 years. Officials there have said they are interested in selling the property in an effort to upgrade their aging facilities in another location outside of Haddonfield.
The parcel is seen as an oasis of possibilities in this nearly built-out, 300-year-old town.