The school district still intends to pursue development of an early childhood education center, but will go back to the drawing board for its capital improvement plans.
By Matt Skoufalos | January 10, 2023
In early 2023, the Haddonfield Board of Education inked a $1.495-million contingency deal for the acquisition of the former Kingsway Learning Center in downtown Haddonfield.
The public school district intended to renovate the facility into an early childhood education center that would provide full-day pre-K and kindergarten to Haddonfield families.
Last week, the school board terminated that contract for the property at 144 Kings Highway West, citing its failure to meet New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) timelines for state approval of that acquisition.
According to a letter sent home to district families and staff, “The purchase agreement was contingent on state approval for that acquisition by Dec. 31, 2023, and that approval was not received.”
Without NJDOE approval, the school board wouldn’t have been able to muster the remainder of the work necessary to package a bond question for borough voters ahead of a March 12 referendum, Haddonfield Superintendent of Schools Chuck Klaus said.
As a result, the district elected to exercise its escape clause from the Kingsway contract rather than scramble to ready that bond question for a state review deadline of next week, Klaus said.
“We didn’t have the approval, and the referendum already had to be moved,” the superintendent said. “It wasn’t a money thing; the timeline was not matching what our goals are.”
NJDOE approval of land acquisition for educational use is contingent upon completion of a hefty application packet that includes financial projections, environmental studies, equipment inventories, communication with local land use boards, and more.
“There’s a whole litany of things to make sure that the property and the land is safe to build a school on,” Klaus said.
“It was a hard decision,” he said. “We put a lot of time and effort into it.
“We’re stewards of taxpayer dollars, and we want to be thoughtful.”
Haddonfield Schools are not yet targeting a new referendum date; the next available dates in 2024 are September 17 and December 17.
The superintendent said the district needs more time to reshape its plans.
“We’re hoping to get it in this year, but we can’t say with all confidence,” Klaus said.
“As we try to plan things, we don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Haddonfield still places a premium on early childhood education, he said. While the district works towards achieving full-day pre-K and kindergarten, school board leaders will revisit their earlier conversations about how they might reach those goals.
“The challenge is, this was our plan,” Klaus said. “It was a good one; we don’t have a plan C and D.”
At the same time, “our other priorities [for the bond referendum] haven’t changed,” he said, which include: maintenance and upkeep of district buildings, improving accessibility to academic sites, expanding its athletic fields, and making improvements to auditoriums and general classroom space.
Klaus expects that Kingsway will return to the market, and may not necessarily be available for consideration by the time the district finalizes its next plans. Haddonfield Schools have had an eye on the property since it first went on the market in 2022, and last year, the superintendent called its acquisition “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Space is a premium in towns around here,” he said.
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