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.