If the Jan. 22 $12.5 million bond referendum fails, Bancroft plans to stay in Haddonfield and embark on an approximately $50 million, multi-year construction project, said Bancroft President and CEO Toni Pergolin.
But, she said, “We’re very excited to think that it will pass.”
Through the past seven years, several plans were presented for the acquisition of the property, she said, including the option of residential housing to generate ratables and an affordable housing plan. Both proposals, she said, residents loudly opposed.
“The current plan, we really believe is a great plan for the community,” said Pergolin, as it includes both open space and educational purposes on the 19.2-acre property off of Kings Highway next to Haddonfield Memorial High School.
At this point, she said, since there aren’t a lot of other options for the property, Bancroft would end any future plans and begin the process of modernizing its facilities.
“We can’t wait another seven years,” she said. “We’ve waited a long time. For us, it’s really about modernizing our facilities for our kids.”
The mission of Bancroft, to provide opportunities and the best quality of life for students with disabilities, will be upheld, whether that occurs in the borough or elsewhere, she said.
As the current property was built over time, the construction period would be longer than if the company were to re-locate to open land.
An anticipated three- to four-year period would take place in Haddonfield with the construction having a “domino effect.”
Zoning permits would be needed, adding to the long process, and Pergolin would want the property to be re-zoned to institutional use.
She said Bancroft would be hopeful that the town would be supportive with renovations if the referendum fails.
“If we were building in an open land, we think it would only take two years,” Pergolin said.
If Bancroft stays, longstanding issues with the town will continue, she said, including the difficult parking situation on Kings Highway.
Buses will continue to incessantly drive in and out of the property and Bancroft will continue to be a high user of emergency responders.
“If we stay, we will stay for the next 100 years,” she said.
For Pergolin, reading articles leading up to the referendum has been interesting, as having the right facilities for the children in Bancroft’s care is her main concern.
“We’re committed to doing the right thing for the kids,” she said.
Currently, Bancroft has 210 students. One hundred live on the campus.
The school was built to accommodate only 100, but the full number can be enrolled due to the conversion of old dorm rooms to classrooms.
“Modernization would be that we’d have a school built for 210 kids and built for students with developmental disabilities,” she said.
At the 300-acre Mullica Hill campus in Gloucester County, which holds programs for adults, a renovation recently occurred.
Those living at that campus, she said, live in an environment built just for them, which enables independence.
Kitchens have wheelchair level countertops, which is much different than the current state of the Haddonfield property’s facilities.
In Haddonfield, the cafeteria is used as a cafeteria, gym and auditorium.
“It would be nice to have a cafeteria that is just a cafeteria,” said Pergolin.
In addition, technology improvements are in dire need, she said.
“We want to build an environment that really enables them and enhances their ability to be independent,” she said.
If the town votes in favor of the referendum, Bancroft will begin its move. The preference for a new location would be to stay in Camden County within a 10-mile radius of the current location, since many individuals who utilize the facilities live in the county, as well as almost 700 staffers.
“We feel good about the vote,” she said, pointing out that Mayor Tish Colombi and other key leaders in the town are behind it. “But we completely understand that it could go both ways.”
Information for the referendum
Learn more about Bancroft by visiting www.bancroft.org.
According to Haddonfield Public Schools, polling hours on Jan. 22 will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Keep up to date on all the latest news related to the proposed borough and schools joint acquisition of the property by visiting www.haddonfield.k12.nj.us/bancroft.