Bancroft School ready to stay, modernize

Voters on Tuesday at the Haddonfield Sixth and Seventh District polls at Elizabeth Haddon Elementary School. About half the town turned out to decide on buying the Bancroft site.
Voters on Tuesday at the Haddonfield Sixth and Seventh District polls at Elizabeth Haddon Elementary School. About half the town turned out to decide on buying the Bancroft site. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 25, 2013

The Bancroft School has sought since 2005 to sell its Haddonfield campus, with plans to buy land elsewhere and build a facility more suited to its needs.

Now, eight years and several failed sale attempts later, with borough voters Tuesday rejecting a $12.5 million referendum to purchase the property, Bancroft officials say they will instead move quickly to renovate the campus.

"We need to begin modernizing our facility," Toni Pergolin, Bancroft's president and chief executive officer, said after the vote. "That's what we intend to do. . . . I hope that the residents who voted against the referendum will support our efforts to carry out our plans."

The school has occupied the 19.2-acre Haddonfield site for 120 years. It has 15 buildings used by 700 staff members who work there, by 100 students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who live on the campus, and by another 100 children who travel there daily for classes.

Bancroft spokeswoman Julie Walsh said in an e-mail Wednesday that the school had "put together a project team to move forward with the campus renovation. . . . We are not able to provide a timeline for this process at this time."

Bancroft is not considering "selling any part of our campus at this time," she said.

Bancroft also has a campus in Mullica Hill and a smaller facility in Voorhees, and operates more than 200 group homes for adult residents in South Jersey, Philadelphia, and Delaware.

Many of the buildings on the Haddonfield campus are woefully outdated, Pergolin said last month, built at a time when almost all those the school served lived on the campus. As most moved into group homes off campus, the dormitories were converted to classrooms.

But the converted buildings are not a very good fit for educating the "very challenging population we work with today," Pergolin said. She explained that many buildings did not originally have handicapped-accessible accommodations, and installing modern educational technology is difficult.

Parking is inadequate, she said; a borough assessment showed 331 spaces, "nowhere near enough."

"We've got the best programs; we've got the best staff," Pergolin said. "We really need to have the best facilities to go along with that. . . . Every child we serve should have the opportunities that any other student has. That's not so now."

Pergolin acknowledged that in past years, "just to get a few parking spots was a big ordeal; it has been hard to redevelop here."

But now, because the school's other options have been foreclosed and it has decided to stay, "hopefully, they will work with us," she said. "The deal is, you don't want to pay [to buy the campus] - we get that. But now you've got to help us stay and grow."

Getting approval for renovation may not be easy. Bancroft's previous efforts have drawn fire from residents worried that changes would negatively affect the neighborhood.

A proposal in 2000 that would have replaced five buildings, providing a research facility, was withdrawn in 2004, after years of sometimes-heated debate.

The research facility is no longer part of the school's plans, but any proposed changes would have to go through a possibly lengthy hearing process. The school is zoned for residential development but was built before zoning laws were passed, so is grandfathered in as a "nonconforming use." In 2006, the borough, anticipating the possible sale of the land, designated it as a redevelopment zone, to get a say in what might be put there.

Borough Commissioner Ed Borden said Wednesday that the redevelopment designation might be dropped, if Bancroft confirms it has dropped its plan to sell.

He added: "We want to move forward quickly to resolve this. We want something the neighbors and [borough] residents can agree on that will also allow Bancroft to fulfill its mission."


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

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