Montclair school officials say despite damage to multiple buildings in Ida, students will return today, Sept. 9, for full, five-day-a-week, in-person instruction for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will be open and ready for students on Thursday, Sept. 9,” schools superintendent Jonathan Ponds wrote in a message sent to families and staff late Tuesday.
Ponds had told the school community as early as Sept. 2 — the morning after Ida’s floodwaters overtook roads and buildings throughout much of Montclair — he was confident school buildings would be ready, and he followed up with a second community message the next day saying repairs were on track.
Montclair High School, Bradford School and Hillside School all suffered severe flooding. A tree fell on Edgemont Montessori School. And a leak caused damage to a fire panel at the district’s Developmental Learning Center.
The district maintenance and custodial staff were working in collaboration with outside cleaning companies, an arborist and an electrician, Ponds had said in his initial community message. In his update this week, he said the district worked with disaster relief company First Onsite to remove damaged materials and sanitize flooded facilities.
“We want to thank our buildings and grounds personnel, the township officials and mayor’s office, and the fire, police and [township] community service departments for their tireless work all weekend long even through the holiday,” he wrote Tuesday.
‘Worst I’ve seen in 30 years’
There were 4 to 5 feet of water in the basement of each affected school, Montclair Deputy Fire Chief Robert Duncan said Tuesday. Pumping the water at each school took about three to four hours, Duncan said.
At Bradford, the boiler room flooded and an electrical panel was damaged. As of Tuesday, he said, power was back on and all repairs had been completed. Electricians had been expected to inspect the building Tuesday, he’d previously said.
At Edgemont, the tree had been removed by late last week, and a scissor lift was expected to be transported to the school for a structural engineer to inspect the gym on Tuesday. That has been completed and the entire building can be occupied, Ponds said Tuesday.
At Hillside, the ground floor flooded. The Montclair Fire Department pumped out water, but Ponds said Tuesday gyms would be off-limits until their floors were fully dry.
At the Developmental Learning Center, a new fire alarm panel needed replacement. Ponds had said last week that would be done by Tuesday, but in his update this week he said it would instead be in place by Thursday.
At Montclair High School, the basement and “the pit” — the auditorium’s storage area — flooded. The fire department pumped out water and debris had been discarded. Ponds said cleaning and disinfecting continued this week but would be complete by Wednesday afternoon. Several rooms needing abatement will be sealed off but the rest of the building can be occupied, he said.
Sept. 2, MHS head custodian Brian Bunk described the flooding as the “worst I’ve seen in 30 years,” while the fire department pumped out water.
In “the pit,” the flooding was 3 feet high, Bunk said. There were also 4 to 5 inches of water in the rest of the building, he said.
Professional development was canceled for Montclair public school teachers that day as the district worked to assess the building damage, according to Montclair Education Association President Cathy Kondreck. Teachers had only returned on Sept. 1 to begin preparing for the start of school.
The MEA is also still waiting for a list of other building repairs completed over the summer along with a breakdown of the future repairs and what they entail, Kondreck said.
Montclair parents teacher associations at Bradford School and Hillside School provided lunches for buildings and grounds staff working to repair the flood damage, Montclair Parent Teacher Association Council president Tessie Thomas said.
At Montclair High School, the PTA — formed in June — worked alongside PTAs from other schools to cover food costs for the high school staff and staff from other schools that joined in on the cleanup.
During the first day, with only half an hour’s notice notice, PTAC members dropped pizzas off at the high school, Thomas said. But the next day, they were more fully prepared. Local restaurants, including Café Moso and Montclair House Grill, provided discounted or free food for the school staff and parents across the district pitched in to help.
“I think this is a great way for the community to come together and help out during this crisis,” Thomas said. “I see it as, you know, not-so-random acts of kindness and Montclair showing its true character.”
The private Montclair Kimberley Academy had flooding at the Upper School campus, and the administration was working to resolve the issue, Head of School Nigel D. Furlonge said Sept.2.
“We are sensitive to the impact this storm has had on MKA families and colleagues as well as on our neighbors and the community of Montclair,” Furlonge said. “While we continue to prepare for the start of school next week, we extend our sincere gratitude to everyone who offered their assistance to those in need during this unprecedented weather event.”
Flooding and related damage at MKA has been resolved, and all buildings are ready to welcome students for their first day on Thursday, Director of Communications and Marketing Kim Saunders said Wednesday.
Immaculate Conception High School suffered no flooding or damage, Principal Michele Neves said.