The construction fence around the Park Street (Midland Avenue/Chestnut Street) entrance of Montclair High School on Friday, Aug. 16. Two of the high school’s original four staircases are expected to be completed in time for the start of school on Sept. 5
ERIN ROLL/STAFF

BY ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair High School will have at least two of its four staircases rebuilt in time for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

With the completion of the two staircases, students and staff will regain access to the second and third floors of the high school. Both floors were closed off for almost a year. 

The four stairwells were deemed unsafe last September after one partially collapsed, and an inspection deemed three others as structurally unsound.

The two outward-facing staircases, facing the Park Street and Midland Avenue entrances, will be done ahead of the first day of school on Sept. 5, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said in a letter sent to parents on Friday, Aug. 16. The Park Street staircase is the one that partially collapsed just after the first day of school in 2018. 

As of Aug. 16, drywall and doors were complete on the Park Street and Midland Avenue  staircases. The metal stair frames in both were to be completed by Aug. 17. Crews had also started pouring the concrete infill into the frames. 

The two remaining staircases, located in the center of the school just off of the central lobby, are currently under reconstruction, as well but won’t be completed until mid-October, said Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea. 

The construction work is expected to cost upward of $2 million. 

The four classroom trailers, placed in the parking lot at the George Inness Annex last year to create more classroom space with the closure of the second and third floors, will remain for the next six months.

The Board of School Estimate began conducting weekly tours of the construction space starting on Aug. 12, Johnson’s letter said. 

The four staircases are located in the original section of the high school, which was built in 1914. The rest of the school was constructed in 1955. 

The Park Street staircase collapsed on Sept. 7, 2018, a few days after school started for the 2018-2019 school year. The staircase, which is between the exterior door and the basement level, started to fold in on itself. No students or staff were injured, but the staircase was closed off as a result. 

The collapse resulted in the school being closed for a few days as building inspectors did a review of the damaged staircase and the other three staircases in the 1914 section. The district’s architects recommended that all four staircases be replaced. With the staircases closed, 31 classrooms on the second and third floors were inaccessible to students and staff, requiring classes to be moved to other parts of the school. 

Further complications arose when environmental tests determined that there were traces of asbestos in the stairwell walls. The asbestos removal work was completed as of Aug. 2. 

A plan to shut the school on May 20 to begin the construction was met with disapproval by parents and students. School officials decided to keep the school open delaying construction.