Fortunato Field upgrades
Fortunato Field Facilities
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The district approved a construction contract for Fortunato Field during Monday night’s BOE meeting, but only after a prolonged discussion among board members about whether its infill choice for the field was the right one.

The contract was awarded to Grade Construction, based in Paterson and includes a total sum of $1,319,203: a base bid of $653,107, and two alternates, or possible additional costs, for $444,962 and $221,113, depending on materials used.

After much discussion on what type of infill to use, the district has settled on thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), a type of infill with small granules. Business Administrator D’Andrea said the variety met the district’s specifications; it is safe and fits the district’s budget.

Board member Eve Robinson said that she was uncertain about voting. “We’re deciding on the turf now? I don’t feel that I’ve been informed on some of these things. ”

She conducted her own infill research after not being given enough information from the facilities committee, she said. “Maybe it’s me, but I don’t feel I’ve been given information from this committee. I thought we were going to have a process.”

The Environmental Commission had recommended a brand called Envirofill, an organic infill comprised of coconut, peat and cork.

However, D’Andrea said Envirofill would be more costly, and since it was an organic infill, there was the likelihood of weeds sprouting from it.

Another brand considered, known as “Nike Grind,” is made from recycled athletic shoe materials.

“I’m going to tell you, I’ve learned a lot about infill, and you’re going to probably sit here for a few days, going back and forth, deciding which is the best one,” D’Andrea said.

Board member Priscilla Church was also doubtful about taking a vote.

“So basically you’re saying that this is what the admin is comfortable with,” said Church, adding she was uncomfortable with choosing a variety of infill based on the district’s budget. In response, Board President Laura Hertzog said the decision was not made solely on budget. The district sent out specifications to different companies months in advance, she said.

“I will not sit here and say, as an admin, that this is the best thing over all the others,” she said. But the district has done its due diligence, she said.

D’Andrea said the district was at a time-sensitive point, and that the district needed to make a decision very soon. “And I can tell you that the longer this prolongs, the chances of getting this field done and ready for the spring season… Is dead.”

The entire board voted to move forward with the field renovations. Board members Anne Mernin and Jessica de Koninck were both absent from the meeting.

Special education

The meeting included a presentation from Tom Santagato, the district’s director of pupil services, concerning an ongoing review of the special education program.

Santagato’s presentation was a review of what services the district offers.

“We should be proud as a school district that we have such a rich number of programs to meet students’ needs,” Santagato said.

The in-district programs include programs for autism, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, and multiple disabilities.

Santagato said many families with special-needs children move to Montclair to take advantage of the services the district offers. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Santagato said. “I think it’s important to recognize that we are successful, and with continued oversight we will get stronger.”

At the start of the school year, teachers are required to read and sign off on the individualized education plans (IEPs) for special needs children in their classes. As of Monday, Santagato said, 89.5 percent of the district faculty had done so.

However, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said the number needed to be clarified. She said the number did not take into consideration faculty who did not yet have special needs children in their classes. “I don’t want people to walk out of here thinking, our teachers are not reading IEPs.”

Among the behavioral issues that the district sees in children, Santagato said, are anxiety, school refusal or school phobia: being too afraid to go to school.

Robinson said she was especially troubled about these issues. She said the district needed to ask when a child was too afraid to come to school, if the problem was with the school environment. “There’s a lot of kids who don’t want to come to school, and we need to figure this out,” Robinson said.

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