staircase repairs
Superintendent Kendra Johnson, center, gives an update on the staircase repairs during the Monday, Oct. 15 BOE meeting. Also pictured are BOE Vice President Joe Kavesh, left, and BOE President Laura Hertzog, right. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The district will withdraw $1 million to cover costs to replace four stairwells at Montclair High School and to provide temporary trailers for high school students to use as classroom during construction.

In addition, the district now expects work will not start until May on the removal of recently discovered asbestos and the rebuilding of the staircases.

On Monday, the BOE approved the withdrawal of $1 million in emergency funds from the district’s capital reserve fund to cover the costs.

All four staircases in the original 1914 section of the high school have been closed since September, after a basement-level section of the Park Street staircase collapsed. The closing of the staircases required the schools to close off 31 second and third-floor classrooms, requiring many classes to be moved to other areas of the campus.

The timeline for the staircase repairs was pushed back after traces of asbestos were found in the wall and ceiling plaster in all four staircases. No asbestos was found in the damaged section of the staircase.

At the Oct. 15 BOE meeting, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said the school will switch to an abbreviated-day schedule for students on May 20. That date was chosen because most of the seniors will be taking AP tests or be off on college visits or work-study programs, and will therefore be out of the building.

After May 20, crews will start asbestos removal work. Once completed, work will start on demolishing and rebuilding the staircases. The work is expected to be done by the end of June or early July.

Under the abbreviated schedule, students will show up for classes either during a four-hour morning shift or during a four-hour afternoon shift.

Montclair will also have to make up the two missed days from September due to the staircase collapse. One hope is that Montclair will not have to use all of its snow days this winter, but Johnson said other options being mulled include the possibility of holding classes on a weekend or taking back days from a holiday period.

Trailers

The district has contracted with Vanguard Modular Building Systems to deliver and install four classroom trailers, each one containing two classrooms.

The installation and delivery of the trailers is expected to cost $232,378, and the installation of decking and ADA ramps is expected to cost another $50,000.

The district has also contracted with Sal Electric, Inc., to do electrical upgrades on the trailers. That work is expected to cost $116,695.

The trailers are expected to arrive on Oct. 24, and will be set up in the parking lot at the George Inness Annex.

Stairwells

The Oct. 15 agenda included bids and contracts for the staircase work, adding up to $590,633.50.

Architectural firm Parette Somjen will provide architectural and engineering services for the stairwell work, at a cost not to exceed $100,000.

The district will hire Fredon Welding and Iron Works to demolish the damaged section of stairs, at a cost of $2,160. Mangiro Contracting Co., Inc, will remove the concrete stair treads, at a cost of $7,120.50.

Both companies will also do demolition work on all four stairwell towers, with an expected cost of $10,280 for Fredon, and $72,000 for Mangiro.

Insurance

One of the remaining questions is whether the district’s insurance carrier will reimburse the district for any or all of the expenses.

After the meeting, Johnson said the district was still negotiating with the carrier for at least partial coverage. The insurance carrier had pushed back on covering the damage, Johnson said, citing the building’s age. But Johnson said the district was hopeful to get some of the repairs covered, or at least the repairs on the damaged Park Street staircase.

Board President Laura Hertzog said on Oct. 3 that the BOE would meet with the Board of School Estimate if it was determined that the district needed more capital funding for the stairwell project.

Parent reactions

Some of the parents in the audience thanked Johnson and the board for the update on the staircases. But there were some concerns about communications and other issues.

“I would ask that you have more communication with the students,” said Lori Borgen, the parent of a student. She said her daughter had reported that rumors were going around among students at the school, including rumors of asbestos dust in the air, black mold in the hallways, and the school closing in November. “I know the emails go out to parents, so I was wondering if you could email the students as well.”

In response, Johnson said she was in touch with the members of the MHS student council, who in turn shared the information over a chat room with other students. However, several parents in the audience were noticed shaking their heads as Johnson said this.

Other parents questioned how the four-hour abbreviated shifts were going to work.

“I’m going to be transparent, I haven’t figured it out yet,” Johnson said. She was working with the school faculty on how to arrange the schedules for those days.

Board Vice President Joe Kavesh said that he was opposed to the idea of holding make-up classes on the weekends, since many families need that time for religious observances as well as time to spend together. Additionally, he said, many families make travel plans during the holiday periods, so that needed to be taken into consideration.