A Montclair High School stairwell was closed Thursday morning after a damaged step was detected, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said. The staircase was cleared for use later in the day. (COURTESY LEROY JAMES)

BY TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

A Montclair High School stairwell was closed Thursday after a damaged step was discovered.

“We took extra precaution and closed the staircase until it could be assessed by our professionals,” Superintendent Jonathan Ponds told Montclair Local in an email on Sept. 30, the day the damage was discovered. “We were given clearance to open the staircase [the day the damage was found], and we will make necessary repairs.”

Ponds has not yet responded to a question about the location of the staircase sent to his district address Thursday evening.

A damaged step on a Montclair High School staircase was cleared for use Thursday and repairs will be made, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said. (COURTESY LEROY JAMES)

Photos taken by a student show damage to the underside of one step.

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The state of the high school facilities has been a long-term concern for the district’s leadership and the community it serves. 

Four stairwells at Montclair High School were deemed unsafe in 2018, following the collapse of a staircase on Sept. 7, 2018. The stairwells were replaced in 2019. 

The replaced 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.

In February of 2020, the state Department of Health cited the district for a series of issues at Montclair High School and its George Innes Annex — some procedural, but some for facilities failings such as broken ventilators, inoperable windows and water damage to walls and ceilings

On July 14, Ponds told Montclair Board of Education members he’d been losing sleep over the state of the district’s buildings.

“Our buildings are very old. They need repair. It’s going to cost money,” Ponds said. “The time is now.”

The Montclair Board of School Estimate will meet Thursday night to discuss a resolution by the Board of Education to bond for $60 million in building upgrades and costs associated with issuing the bond. 

The Board of School Estimate is responsible for formally fixing and determining the costs of facility projects. The Township Council then adopts the bond ordinances. 

The upgrades were identified this spring in a long-range facilities plan. They include projects across all district buildings, including work on the aging and sometimes absent ventilation systems. The state of the ventilation throughout the schools played a key role in controversy over whether and when students and staff would return to the schools last school year, and continues to be a point of concern for some parents and staff.