Haddonfield officials this week said they are hopeful of having at least $3.5 million in state, county and local open-space funds toward the public purchase of the 19-acre Bancroft property on Kings Highway East.
This is more than three times the amount previously cited to help offset the $16.8 million cost for acquiring the property adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School and demolishing buildings there. The plans also include resurfacing the high-school football stadium with artificial turf and constructing a new artificial-turf athletic field and other site improvements.
Commissioner Ed Borden said he, borough Administrator Sharon McCullough and school board President Steve Weinstein, met Monday with a county official to clarify how much money could be coming from Camden County and the state toward the purchase.
"The county has $800,000 in open-space funds the state gave it toward the Bancroft purchase," Borden said in a Board of Commissioners work session Monday. "Those funds have to be matched, but the county could match it out of their open-space funds."
Haddonfield officials had previously only confirmed $500,000 in county funds and about the same in borough funds toward the Bancroft purchase. The borough funds come from the local open-space tax, which, like county and state funds, must be used to preserve open space. Preservation of several acres of open space, which could include walking trails next to county park land there, is also part of the Bancroft development plan.
Borden and McCollough said the county could add more toward the $3.5 million tallied so far. The total amount in grants and open-space tax funds toward the purchase will not likely be known before the language for a $16.8 million bond referendum is completed, Borden and McCollough said.
The school board has scheduled a special meeting on Nov. 27 to announce the language for the referendum. The referendum date is Jan. 22 and the board must get the final language approved by the state Department of Education before then.
That means only $1 million in open-space funds from the county and borough that had been confirmed before last month are likely to be available to be used to reduce the bond amount of the referendum. Public reaction to the purchase has generally been supportive in several meetings over the last nine months since the public purchase option beat out other development plans, including market-rate and senior housing on the site.
One drawback in public support has revolved around the inclusion of turf athletic fields. School officials say the fields and site improvements are needed to address aging and overused borough athletic fields. Some critics say they support a public purchase of the land, buy won't support it if athletic fields construction remains in it.
The borough and school board have agreed to jointly buy the Bancroft property. The borough is the designated developer of the redevelopment zone there, 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 but the borough can.
Bancroft is a center for the developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries. It has occupied the 428 Kings Highway East property for 128 years. Officials there have said they want to sell 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.