Board of School Estimate
The Montclair Board of School Estimate held its first meeting of the school year on Oct. 26. COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Long-range facilities plans were the focus of Monday’s Board of School Estimate meeting, the first of this school year.

The meeting was also the first for Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and Board of Education President Latifah Jannah, and for new appointee Lori Price Abrams, Third Ward councilwoman, whom Mayor Sean Spiller appointed in his place due to his position with New Jersey Education Association. 

Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager and Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock also serve on the board, which is responsible for reviewing and approving the schools’ budgets and major capital spending projects. 

Two years ago, the district’s architects prepared a $70 million list of capital projects. The list included priority projects that needed to be done for safety reasons, including repairs to outside masonry at several schools. 

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The masonry work was scheduled to begin this summer, with some being delayed due to the pandemic, Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea said. That work should resume soon, he said. 

Within the next few weeks, the district is expected to receive an updated list of projects that will be priorities, D’Andrea said. 

Also discussed at the meeting was a recently approved proposal to embark on an Energy Savings Improvement Plan, a series of energy upgrades at the schools that would help the district save money on utility bills in the long run. 

The plan includes a solar power lease-purchase agreement. The district would host a network of solar panels and sell the resulting energy back to the solar power companies that own the panels. 

An initial report from consultant Honeywell indicated that the project could cost up to $11 million in total, with the base part of the project outside of the solar agreement costing between $7.2 million and $8.5 million. 

The district could apply for state financing to cover the costs, and then use the resulting energy savings to pay back that money over the next decade. 

The project will also include a series of long-term overhauls to the schools’ aging ventilation systems. Those overhauls are separate from the short-term ventilation upgrades being carried out ahead of the schools’ anticipated November reopenings. 

Hurlock said he was relieved to hear that ventilation is going to be addressed for the long term in the energy savings plan. His own children started in the district at Northeast, and in the winter, even with the windows open, the classrooms were often overheated, he said. 

“Elementary school students shouldn’t be going to school in T-shirts and flip-flops in January, and February, and March,” he said.

D’Andrea said the energy plan’s funding may be one of the first projects the Board of School Estimate looks at this year, with hopes that the work on the school buildings can be done simultaneously.  

Another ongoing project is an upgrade of the district’s security system, to bring it in line with Alyssa’s Law, named for Alyssa Alhadeff, a high school student and former New Jersey resident killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. The law requires school security systems to be upgraded and include features such as silent alarm buttons. 

The district has appropriated $491,550 for construction and installation services for the new security system. 

D’Andrea said the goal is to have a system that can be expanded as needed and allow the Montclair Police Department remote access to the schools’ security cameras in the event of an incident. The district needed to upgrade its telecommunications system first before the cameras could be installed, and that work has been completed, D’Andrea said. 

Schools are expected to have their individual proposed budgets ready by Oct. 30.