By ERIN ROLL
Montclair High School may have found a solution to its shortage of graduation seating.
The school will set up bleachers around the school’s amphitheater for the June 21 ceremony, including on Park Street. The bleachers will add 600 seats to the amphitheater’s maximum capacity of 1,500.
MHS Principal James Earle made the announcement during the June 6 BOE meeting.
Last year, large numbers of parents were unable to get seats in the amphitheater, and several parents reported that ticket holders were turned away at the gate.
That triggered a debate among alumni, parents and other residents about whether to continue holding the ceremony in the amphitheater. Some have argued in favor of moving the ceremony to a more appropriate venue for the size of the crowd, such as Woodman Field. Others have argued for keeping the ceremony in the amphitheater, out of respect for long-running Montclair traditions.
As a result of the added seating, each of the approximately 516 graduates in this year’s class will receive four guest tickets. Earle emphasized that the bleachers are for ticket holders only, not for people who didn’t get a ticket.
The bleachers will be placed on Park Street between the main building and the George Inness Annex. In addition, there will be a 10-by-6-foot video screen set up near the amphitheater.
Police Lt. David O’Dowd said that Park Street will be shut down between Chestnut Street and Watchung Avenue from 2:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. to allow bleachers to be set up and taken down.
Buses will be rerouted during this time period, he said, and bus passengers are advised to contact the bus company for adjusted routes and times. Extra officers will be assigned to the graduation detail.
“We were a little concerned because if you provide four tickets and you fill the amphitheater up, that a family of four might be in the bleachers, so we continued with our traditional plan of providing a family with three tickets to the amphitheater section, so that you can have the majority of your family can see straight on, and one additional ticket for a guest or a member of your family who can sit outside and participate in graduation from the bleachers,” Earle said.
The school had received many compliments, Earle said, as well as some concerns from people who were concerned about families being split up during the ceremony.
“But we feel like this is just a tremendous option to be able to add seating and to bring people to our ceremony,” he said.
The ceremony will also be livestreamed in the high school’s atrium, Earle said, and the district is looking for air-conditioned spaces where overflow crowds can watch the livestream.
“We’re excited about all the upgrades to the graduation, and we know it’s not a perfect venue because we’d love to have everyone celebrate with us, but we’re so excited to be able to bring 600 more people into our house, with our graduates, on June 21,” Earle said.
“Now make sure it doesn’t rain,” quipped BOE member Eve Robinson.
BOE President Laura Hertzog thanked Earle for the updates. “This is the hardest part of your year, graduation,” she said.