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Montclair High School graduation
Parents and siblings attend the 2017 Montclair High School graduation ceremony in the school’s amphitheater. For 2019, the school will have to find another venue, since the school will be closed for asbestos removal. 
PHOTO BY NEIL GRABOWSKY

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair High School officials and the BOE are weighing their options on graduation venues after not being able to utilize the amphitheater this year.

The school’s usual venue will not be accessible since the school will be closed for asbestos removal and stairwell replacements beginning in May.

Montclair State University (MSU), the Wellmont Theater, Woodman Field and New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark are being considered as graduation venues, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said at the Feb. 6 board of education meeting.

All four of those venues have advantages and disadvantages, she said.

MSU would be an outdoor venue, and therefore would need a rain date in the case of inclement weather. Although where on campus the graduation would take place was not discussed, the campus does not have an indoor venue large enough to hold the ceremony in the event of rain. A rain date could affect the Project Graduation festivities, as well as families’ travel plans, she said.

At the Wellmont in Montclair, seating would be limited with a seating capacity of 2,137. About 2,500 people, including the students, attended last year’s graduation. If the ceremony were to be held at the theater, Johnson said each student would only receive two tickets for his or her family and the district would look into having the ceremony live-streamed at another auditorium location in town.

Woodman Field is currently being repaired. If repairs are completed by June, Johnson said the district could have a tarp laid down and a stage set up. But Woodman Field has the same disadvantage as MSU. In the case of rain, the ceremony would have to be moved to another date.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark is large enough to accommodate the students and their families, and each family would be given six to eight tickets. But Johnson said moving the ceremony out of Montclair was not an ideal situation. “The disadvantage is, we’re Montclair proud. We want to have our graduation in our town,” she said.

MSU spokesperson Erika Bleiberg confirmed Thursday that the university is discussing the possibility of Montclair holding graduation at its facilities, but the university could not offer any other information, including on facility rental fees or logistics.

Anthony Morrison, the Wellmont’s general manager, confirmed Friday that the theater had been in talks with the school about the ceremony. He said he could not disclose specific costs, but said the theater would be happy to host the school and was willing to do what it could to accommodate the school’s needs.

Johnson told Montclair Local that the district’s goal is to spend no more than $15,000 on the ceremony and its related expense.

Families of seniors will receive a survey asking them for graduation venue preferences via email within the next few weeks.

Johnson promised that the graduating seniors would receive plenty of graduation treats, including T-shirts, DVDs and other prizes.

“This particular graduating class, we want to wrap our arms around because they’re the graduating class with the stair collapse,” Johnson said.

The topic of where to hold graduation ceremonies in Montclair has been a controversial subject over the last several years.

Ceremonies are traditionally held in the amphitheater at the high school, with overflow seating being provided in the auditorium. Last year, the district set up bleachers on Park Street for overflow seating as well.

Some families have asked the district to move the ceremony out of the amphitheater, because the space is too small to accommodate the number of parents and relatives that attend.

However, many longtime residents say that to move the ceremony out of the amphitheater would mean doing away with a much-loved tradition.

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