This post from former Haddonfield mayor and prominent business leader Bill Reynolds is from the local Internet chat room Haddonfield Talks:
I'm an old guy. I have lived here almost all of my 74 years, and I have seen "hot" issue controversies come and go. These controversies almost always involve a proposed local change. Clearly, the upcoming referendum and the possible change that will come if it passes fall into the "hot" category.
Here's what usually happens with "hot" change issues. The arguments on both sides will become very passionate. There will be charges of plots and hidden agendas from those who are against the change. In the old days, the folks who opposed change would call the people who were for the change "communists." That would make the people who were for the change furious, and then the fur would really start to fly. I remember one time when I was a kid, a group wanted the town to put fluoride in the drinking water to fight tooth decay. Feelings ran so high that after one public meeting, there was a fist fight behind Borough Hall. Hopefully things today won't reach that point, but even if they do, ultimately, the town will calm down, and things will return to normal. "Normal" here is a town made up mostly of middle class families who prize education and who do everything they can to see that their kids get the best possible start in life.
A little history may be helpful. Haddonfield has always been "an education community." The second community building in town built by the Quakers in the mid 1700s was a school. It's still there today on Haddon Avenue. The first comprehensive public high school was built in the early 1900s at the site where the middle school is now. It was next to the railroad station, and in addition to Haddonfield teens, students came by train from as far as Hammonton and Medford for the chance to attend high school. In those days, everything east of here was very rural, and there was no education beyond the elementary level.
The current high school main building opened in the 1920s, and all the schools in town were expanded in the decades from the 50s through the 80s. The reason for this is that the nurture of growing families was, and still is, Haddonfield's major function as a community. The people who have lived here over the years have recognized this and have been prudent in making long term investments that have resulted in the outstanding quality of the public educational system we have today.
In light of the continuing family nurture function of our community, I have reached the conclusion that it is in the public interest to buy the Bancroft site. Here are my reasons for this conclusion:
1. Bancroft is a willing seller. I am not a Bancroft insider. I have not communicated with anyone at Bancroft in many years, but I am familiar with the situation having been employed there in the late 1950s and again in the 1970s. My observation is that over the last several decades attitudes of the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods have become increasingly antagonistic toward Bancroft. It appears to me that the people responsible for Bancroft have decided that enough is enough and that it is in their interest to move to less contentious surroundings.
2. Having the Borough and the Board of Education acquire the site will preserve the maximum number of public options for the future. There isn't any more land in Haddonfield, and with Bancroft currently being a willing seller, the town has a one-time opportunity. If we don't get this parcel into public hands now, some other use will emerge, and the property will be lost to future public use.
3. The Borough does not have enough space to handle the increased needs brought about by the expansion of Title IX. Title IX mandates as a basic civil right that female athletes have equal facilities with male athletes. Our present fields are doing double and triple duty and have become seriously inadequate as women's sports have expanded. (I talked about this in more detail in a posting on HT a couple of weeks ago.)
4. The lack of an adequate campus increases the likelihood that HMHS could be phased out as a comprehensive high school as part of school district consolidation. Nobody wants to talk about it, but the State of New Jersey is on the verge of bankruptcy. Knowledgeable people think that consolidation of the smaller municipalities and school districts is inevitable.
In the view of prudent people, this prospect is no longer a question of if, but when. When the State can no longer pay its bills, the bankers will hold a gun to the heads of the legislators, and, since bankruptcy is not a viable option, the legislators' only recourse will be massive restructuring of State operations. One of the State's major cost centers is public schools. Consolidation is the clearest way to eliminate costly duplication of services and administrative overhead. When it happens, consolidation will probably follow a model like what Pennsylvania did in the 1950s when it abolished all existing school districts and redrew district lines so that no district would have less than 5,000 students and most would have substantially more.
While nobody can say at this point exactly what will happen here in New Jersey, an adequate campus would do much to assure that we would keep a full high school operating here in town.
4. Property values in Haddonfield stay high in large part because of our strong public schools. All you have to do is to look at Merchantville to see what happens when a town loses its high school. Through the 1960s while it had a comprehensive school district, Merchantville's property values were about the same or even a little higher than Haddonfield's. Once their high school was consolidated and the kids went to Pennsauken, the property values dropped significantly. Today, the same house in Merchantville is valued at about 2/3 of what it is in Haddonfield. Merchantville was simply no longer as desirable a place to raise kids, and property values dropped. The same thing could happen in Haddonfield if we were to lose HMHS.
5. Haddonfield has always been about raising kids. Most of the houses here are designed for families with children. People consciously choose to move to Haddonfield and to pay our higher taxes because our public schools continue to be among the best in the nation. The schools also continue to be an incredible bargain.
The most recent national average figures for annual private non-sectarian school tuition rates are$15,945 for elementary and $27,302 for secondary (http://www.capenet.org/facts.html). This means that the cost of educating one child K-12 in private school today would be: $252,713, or to put it another way, if you have two kids in school, it is going to cost you anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 a year to get the kind of quality you get for just your taxes here in Haddonfield.
If we invest in acquiring the Bancroft site, we will do much to assure that Haddonfield will continue to be a place that attracts people who have a high regard for education and who see our educational system as real value. This means that the demand for housing and the value of our housing stock will stay high.
6. It's a myth that the town is discriminating against our seniors. As I said, I'm an old guy, and a lot of my friends are old too. I have lived here all my life. I am not broken up about the thought of having to move out of the five (maybe six) bedroom house that my wife and I share. Our kids are long gone, and the place is too damn big for just the two of us. It costs us way too much to stay here, but inertia and grandkids in the area keep us rooted in the old place. We know that one day we will have to move. There are plenty of apartments and condos in town and in the area, and moving outside the Borough boundaries when you're our age does not mean that you are one bit less a part of the community. The community, after all, is not the government – it's people. As a friend of mine says, "I now sleep in Cherry Hill, but I still live in Haddonfield." Most of the folks I know who have moved feel the same way. They still participate in whatever aspects of Haddonfield life they choose. So it seems to me that the senior citizen argument is not nearly the issue some people make it out to be.
7. Closing Thoughts: The acquisition of the Bancroft property will do much to give Haddonfield the ability to maintain its position as a leading education community. The acquisition does involve making some changes and spending some money. It takes courage to confront change. Haddonfielders have been courageous in the past. The quality of life we enjoy today is not an accident. It is the result of many generations of Haddonfielders who have had the courage to invest and reinvest in the quality of life in our community.
While I probably won't be around to see the long term outcomes of the upcoming decision, I profoundly hope that as a community we will have the courage to maintain our tradition of being forward looking. One way to do that is to vote YES on the upcoming referendum.