Haddonfield rejects Bancroft purchase

At the Haddonfield Second and 10th Voting District at Tatem Elementary School, (from left) Malcolm Simmons, son Steven, wife Clare, Craig Wagner, and Tara Lambert (holding son Luke) wait to vote on the Bancroft issue.
At the Haddonfield Second and 10th Voting District at Tatem Elementary School, (from left) Malcolm Simmons, son Steven, wife Clare, Craig Wagner, and Tara Lambert (holding son Luke) wait to vote on the Bancroft issue. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 24, 2013

Haddonfield voters narrowly rejected the purchase of the 19.2-acre Bancroft school site in a referendum Tuesday. The vote sends an eight-year debate about the future of the property, adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School, back to square one.

The Haddonfield school board had asked voters to approve a $12.5 million bond for the purchase. The land would have been used for athletic fields, recreation, parking, open space, and educational facilities.

An unofficial count showed the question going down to defeat by 2,387 to 2,136 vote, or 53 percent to 47 percent. There are about 9,435 registered voters in the borough, so turnout was about 48 percent, high for this kind of vote.

The announcement of the totals drew stunned silence from about 50 people at the borough hall, most of whom had supported the proposition.

"We're disappointed, but we respect the community's choice," said school Superintendent Richard Perry.

Board of Education President Steve Weinstein said, "You put an idea out, you work hard for it, then you count the votes. That's all you can do."

He added, "I would think that [the effort to buy the property] is done. The borough will have to deal with the results."

Brian Kelly, founder of Haddonfield United, which opposed the purchase, said, "The issue in the vote was mostly the taxes" that would have been increased for residents if the question had passed. "But with the state of the economy, we felt that the wind was at our back."

The bond would have cost a Haddonfield resident whose house is assessed at the borough average - $491,359 - $189 a year in new taxes for 20 years. Haddonfield has the second-highest average tax bill - $12,792 - in Camden County.

Bancroft officials have worked since 2005 to sell the Haddonfield campus so they could build a facility elsewhere more suited to their needs. The current site has several decades-old buildings that were once residences but have been converted to classrooms and offices. Bancroft serves students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

It now will stay put, Toni Pergolin, president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday night.

"I'm glad this is finally decided," she said. "We've been here for 120 years. Now we'll be here for another hundred. We need to begin modernizing our facility. That's what we intend to do."

The last few months saw a spirited campaign for and against the purchase.

Haddonfield United focused mainly on the tax burden needed to pay off the bond, with yet more hikes possible to pay for future projects on the land.

One Haddonfield, a group formed to work for a "yes" vote, said the purchase would boost education, conservation, recreation, and preservation.


Contact Dan Hardy at 856-779-3858 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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