Representatives from Westrum Development Company gave a presentation at the Sept. 29 meeting of the Voorhees board of education on plans to build a senior living community on the corner of Route 73 and Signal Hill Drive, next to Signal Hill Elementary School.
Though plans have not been approved or submitted, the company wanted to inform the public and hear feedback and concerns before going to the planning board with its application.
“We would love if Voorhees Township would approve this, but we wanted to make sure as neighbors that we came to you first, because the school district would be the adjoining neighbor,” said John Westrum, CEO of Westrum.
Westrum highlighted benefits like increased tax revenue, no burden to the school system because of the senior demographic and less traffic than other businesses because of ride share services. At the earliest, construction would begin around fall 2022, and the building would not be complete for a few more years.
Comments and questions from the board revolved around the safety of children, the impact construction and the view (of the building) may have on the school experience and traffic. Board President Monica Watson and Dr. Scott Falk asked about facility security.
“My greatest concern is having some of these seniors who don’t know what they’re doing coming across and harming or scaring our children, or doing anything that could impact our kids.”
Westrum assured her that the mental care facility is very secure, noting that the staff to patient ratio is 3:1 and the mental care patients are never outside unaccompanied. Falk asked that they consider having a protocol for how staff when a senior does accidentally wander over to the school grounds to minimize conflict, and if they could search for child abuse when they do background checks on the staff.
No action was taken, but the presentation sparked the dialogue that it had intended.
Prior to the presentation, acting superintendent Michael Redfearn announced that the first Family Night was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20.
“That’s just a night that takes place the third Wednesday of every month,” he said. “It’s a night where there’s no activities, no sports, no homework, no projects that are due, it’s just one day out of the month that kids get to go home and be kids.”
During public comments, topics discussed included the mask mandate, the potential of switching to a fully remote schedule if COVID cases increase, and the inclusiveness of the LGBTQ community. Each topic had a mixed reaction. Board of education candidate and parent Deborah Wellings asked when they could expect the mask mandate to end, and said she didn’t want the school to close again. She reminded the board that they could always appeal to the governor, with regards to the mask-mandate or allowing remote-learning despite the governor’s mandate. Another parent, Kara Thornton, expressed the opposite view by voicing her support of the mask mandate and shutting down the school to go virtual should the number of cases continue to rise.
“The only factor coming into play right now should be the safety of our children,” said Thornton. “It’s not political, it’s nothing else.”
Where one parent expressed his discomfort with a math teacher asking his daughter for her pronouns and referenced taking a policy on transgender students too seriously, board member Dr. Marissa Levy thanked the board and the school district for their inclusiveness after her first child left the district to go to Eastern.
“I didn’t realize how inclusive and LGBTQ-accpeting and affirming teachers are and how important that has been until they (her oldest child) left the district and are now at Eastern I want to,” Levy reflected. “I thank the teachers for respecting a child’s choice, a child’s preference, and for creating an environment where children can be themselves and act in a way that makes them feel happy.”
The policy referenced was 5756, which relates to transgender students and states that “transgender students will be addressed by their chosen name and pronouns regardless of whether a legal name change or change in official school records has occurred.” It also outlines other ways to respect and include the students in school activities.
Unrelated, several parents came up solely to voice their support and gratitude for the teachers and positive experiences they’ve had since school started.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Administration Building at 329 Route 73, Voorhees, NJ 08043. The meeting will also be accessible via Zoom.