Haddonfield voters rejected a $12.5 million bond referendum Tuesday for the public purchase of the 19.2-acre Bancroft property at 425 Kings Highway East.
The final vote was 2,387 against and 2,136 in favor of the referendum, according to unofficial returns. The total does not include provisional votes cast on Election Day, which could take up to two days to count.
"Who says you can't beat city hall?" said Brian Kelly of Haddonfield United, a group that spearheaded opposition to the proposal. "We really made our voices heard on this one."
Opponents said the purchase was overpriced and would just be the beginning of more tax increases needed to cover spiraling costs, none of which will be addressed with the Bancroft referendum, they say. The inclusion of $1.2 million for an artificial turf athletic field was also a point of contention with some.
"When you lose, there's lots of factors," BOE President Steve Weinstein said. "Turf was a factor, taxes was a factor, fears about Radnor was a factor."
In fact, Radnor Field may have been the key factor in deciding this referendum. The high school athletic field is located in the district that turned out the most no votes by far in voting Tuesday. The referendum went down by 218 votes in that district, 629 to 411. The referendum was defeated by a total of 251 votes, according to unofficial results.
Some residents there were concerned the school board would eventually try to sell Radnor if it developed more athletic fields on a newly acquired Bancroft property. The fear was it could be converted into residential housing, including an affordable-housing component.
Voter turnout was heavy in the hotly contested election. The rejection halts the joint public purchase of the property by the Board of Education and the borough. The total cost of the $16 million purchase and development plan was was reduced by at least $3.5 million in open-space preservation funds from the borough, county and state.
"That money is gone now," Commissioner Ed Borden, who also sits on the borough planning board, said about the preservation money. "The prospects for a public purchase are clearly dead. We have to step back and see what happens."
Bancroft officials released a statement Tuesday detailing what they intend to do next.
"We are excited to begin the process of modernizing our campus, so we can provide the best possible services here in Haddonfield for many, many years to come," said Toni Pergoin, Bancroft's president and CEO. "We know there will be challenges along the way, but we look forward to working proactively with borough representatives to make the process as smooth and positive as possible for everyone."
Proponents of the plan said the purchase was necessary "to seize the opportunity of acquiring this historic and prominent 'gateway into Haddonfield' for use by the community at large, for educational and recreational purposes, to allow for possible future school expansion and development of a high school campus, and to secure an open space legacy."
But in the end, the vision of what could be was outweighed by the concerns.
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