Haddonfield district advances plan for Early Education Center at former Kingsway site

HADDONFIELD – The school district has moved one step closer to offering full-day kindergarten at a vacant building here.

Haddonfield’s zoning board on Aug. 22 approved a zoning variance that would allow an Early Education Center to operate at the former Kingsway Learning Center.

But the proposed reuse of the site on the 100 block of Kings Highway still faces at least two more hurdles.

Former Bancroft campus to hold housing Haddonfield pays to settle lawsuit with Bancroft property redeveloper

The state Education Department must approve the district’s plans to offer full-day kindergarten along with its existing preschool services.

And borough residents are expected to vote in March 2024 on a bond issue — its size still undetermined — that would finance the building's purchase and other district projects.

Haddonfield's school district wants to purchase the former Kingsway Learning Center on Kings Highway for use as an Early Childhood Center with full-day kindergarten.

The bond could also fund more space for classrooms and athletic facilities, as well as renovations to auditoriums, learning spaces, and building security and infrastructure.

Haddonfield surveys found support for early childhood education

The district last year solicited input from community members, including parents, residents and school employees, to help identify possible improvements.

It described programs for the youngest students as "a clear desire among participants."

The district is currently "whittling down" a list of potential changes whose cost, if all were implemented, "would be too high for Haddonfield property owners," according to a statement from the district.

If voters approve the bond, work could begin next year for completion by year-end 2027, the district said.

School officials say the two-story brick building — with classrooms, a gym and offices in 59,000 square feet — would "easily accommodate" kindergarten and pre-school services.

The building opened in 1966 as a private high school for Catholic girls, St. Mary Academy of the Angels. It was sold in 1977 to Kingsway, which educated students with developmental disabilities.

A former school building on Kings Highway in Haddonfield originally held St. Mary of the Angels Academy from 1966 to 1977.

Kingsway moved its educational programs to Mount Laurel in 2018, and the building has been vacant since that time, according to the district's application to the zoning board.

The proposed center would serve an estimated 410 Haddonfield children and tuition-paying youngsters from other towns, evenly split between preschool and kindergarten programs.

Haddonfield’s school system, although considered among South Jersey’s best, is one of only six statewide without full-day kindergarten, the district noted in a statement.

“Although the academic benefits are recognized, space has been a barrier in expanding Haddonfield’s program to a full day,” it said.

Meetings with the district's stakeholders last year showed programming for the youngest learners was "a clear desire"

"Full-day programs spread the intensity of academics throughout the day, while blending in social and emotional development that is critical for this age group," its statement said.

The zoning board voted unanimously to approve the district's application.

The variance was needed because the school is in an area zoned for residences.

An earlier variance allowed Kingsway to operate a school, but it was revoked in June 2022 when the building was no longer being used for education.

Jim Walsh is a senior reporter with the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. Email: jwalsh@cpsj.com.

This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Haddonfield wants offer full-day kindergarten at former Kingsway site