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PTA Packs Them in for Bancroft Q&A

The overflow crowd was roped in with tight rules.

An overflow crowd of more than 50 squeezed into a small section of the Central-Middle school library Monday for a Q&A with school officials about the Jan. 22, $12.5 million Bancroft bond referendum.

If approved, the money would be used to purchase and develop the 19.2-acre Bancroft property adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School on Kings Highway East.

The borough PTA Zone sponsored the meeting and imposed tight rules that included writing all questions on index cards to be read by a PTA leader to school board members and borough commissioners who attended the meeting. The rules also included an attempt to prevent reporters from taking notes or photos during the meeting.

Beth Glennon, the former Zone PTA president, told a reporter she was in charge of the meeting and that she would set the rules. Her restrictions contradicted an agreement earlier in the day with Kryssy DeVivo, the president and chairperson of  PTA Zone, the boroughwide PTA organization.

The restrictions, announced as participants arrived at the 7:30 p.m. meeting, also rankled a member of a group opposed to the purchase, who said they had been given an assurance prior to the meeting that they would be able to speak.

"We were promised our chance to give a rebuttal, give our side of the story," said Brian Kelly, a member of Haddonfield United, which opposes the purchase. "Both sides need to be addressed, it's part of the democratic process. We got bounced."

This was the last planned public meeting on the referendum before the vote.

The format did speed the meeting along. It lasted just over an hour, or about an hour shorter than dozens of meetings on the purchase over the last two years have lasted on average.

A sampling of attendees said they knew more about the purchase afterward, despite the restrictive format.

"Yes, we got some answers," said Lee Kenny, 50, of Roberts Avenue. "I still have some questions about underground tanks or environmental hazards on the site. I was on the fence when I came in and I'm still on the fence."

Opposed to high-density development

Kenny and her husband Tom, 52, were opposed to an earlier development plan to build an assisted-care, nursing facility on the property.

Bancroft, a center for the rehabilitation of the developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries, has occupied the property at 425 Kings Highway East for the past 128 years. Officials have announced plans to sell it to move and update their aging facility in another location. Bancroft said it would seek to renovate and expand its existing facility if the bond referendum is rejected.

Tom Kenny said the traffic and noise at Bancroft is intolerable now. For that reason, he's leaning toward supporting the public purchase.

"My concern is losing the chance to buy the property," Kenny said. "I don't want to see a more dense built-out of Bancroft."

Dr. Beth Zigmund, 43, a physician who lives on Spruce Street, said she can see both sides of the issue, but still plans to vote no.

"The reasons that some people support this is are legitimate," she said. "Better schools, with more property, who wouldn't want that? But the price is too high. Nothing in this referendum is to improve educational facilities. Any improvement for that can't be accomplished without multiple millions of dollars more in bonds.

"There are a lot of people in this town who can't afford that. I'm fine, but some of my neighbors can't afford another $500 a year in taxes."

The BOE estimates a typical resident with a property assessment value of $492,000 will pay $189.22 a year in additional taxes for the next 20 years for the Bancroft purchase.

Haddonfield’s average property tax bill of $12,088.88 is nearly twice the state average at $7,776, according to the state Department of Community Affairs. Haddonfield has the second highest average property tax bill in Camden County. It trails Tavistock, an exclusive enclave at the tip of Haddonfield, enclosed mostly in a private golf course. Haddonfield's property tax bills are 27 percent higher than Voorhees, $8,777.41, third in the county.

The school board and the borough have a joint purchase agreement for the $16 million acquisition which includes $3.5 million of guarantees for open-space preservation funds from the borough, county and state.

Mister Mike January 10, 2013 at 02:04 AM
@Jack S, I agree with you on that specific observation. My understanding of open space is that it's open to the use of the people to use for various things. Yes, there may be some restrictions such as whether pets can be walked there, hours that the space is closed (say from 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM as an example) and others, but by and large people can use open space to walk, run, and a picnic, etc. I highly doubt that a sports stadium, whether with a turf field or natural grass, would be open to the public to enjoy except to attend sports events. Additionally, with most of those sporting events (such as football) you will probably need to Pay admission, even though Haddonfield residents have already had their property taxes used to build the sports facility. That hardly sounds like open space to me!
Mister Mike January 10, 2013 at 02:46 AM
@Pro-Haddonfield. I agree with you 100% that one needs to consider what is already there when deciding to purchase a house. You don't buy and then decide something shouldn't be there that was there first. My wife and I purchased our house over 23 years ago across from a county park with a lake. That was a definite positive, while having daily traffic that was 1000% more than our old house located on a cu-DE-sac was a big negative. Suffice it to say that the positive outweighed the negative for us. Our decision once made, we would never demand that the county change our street into a local permit needed to use it or park on it road!
Concerned January 10, 2013 at 03:11 AM
I would love for Bancroft to stay, but the truth is that they want to go. Moving would benefit their students and staff. The best choice for that property, if sold, would be the BOE. The main discrepancy I can’t seem to comprehend is the BOE overpaying for the property. In addition, less then a year ago, BOE outsourced therapies to Bancroft (their largest public schools contact) for $657,236 with ever considering other alternatives. Other public schools usually go thru a competitive bid process. What is the BOE and Bancroft correlation?
Jack S January 10, 2013 at 03:55 AM
@Mister Mike. I'm also concerned that the open space we already have in Haddonfield is in abysmal shape. In some cases, that's the fault of the County. Hopkins Pond, for example, is a stone's throw from my house, but I never go there except to drive by. The pond is so dirty and disgusting that it saddens me to see it. I used to catch fish there as a kid, but now I wouldn't want to get a drop of that water near me. The acquisition of Bancroft does nothing to improve that situation. If the Borough could convince the County to get its act together on Hopkins pond, then that would do something to improve open space.
Joe Taxpayer January 10, 2013 at 03:56 AM
Jack S, yes lots of people have different definitions and views on what they would define as "open space". The good news is that state statutes define it for us. As a reference, the state open space laws funded through the Green Acres Program have this to say Q What can be developed with Green Acres money? A For Green Acres purposes, “development” is the improvement of parkland with facilities for outdoor recreation and/or conservation purposes. Examples of development projects include construction of tot lots, athletic fields, running tracks, athletic courts, walkways, trails, boat ramps and boardwalks. Structures that will be used to support the outdoor recreation use of parkland (such as restrooms, maintenance sheds, or concession stands) may be constructed with Green Acres funds. Below is the press release from last fall on funded Green Acres projects. As you can see, open space money goes to support open space AND all things that come with open space such as turf fields, parking lots, restrooms, boat docks, etc. Consider when open space money goes to preserve someone's farm. Do we get to walk on and pick our fruits and vegetables when that happens? Of course not yet it is acquired with our open space tax dollars and we have zero access or control of it. http://www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2012/12_0106.htm

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