The Watchung School playground opened Jan. 3, while a few components remain in transit due to pandemic-related supply chain delays. (TALIA WIENER/STAFF)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

Families have been told the long-awaited Watchung School playground opened Jan. 3, while some of the structure’s components remain in transit.

However, there seems to be some internal miscommunication on the issue; schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said Monday his understanding was that the playground was not yet open for use.

A Dec. 31 email from Watchung principal Patrick Krenn told families that the missing playground components would not arrive for another nine to 12 weeks, but students would gain access to the playground Jan. 3 when they returned from winter break.

But when asked Monday about the playground, Ponds said his understanding was that it was “not open for use.”

“We are still awaiting for additional parts for the playground to be completed,” Ponds said by email Monday.

When Montclair Local shared Krenn’s Dec. 31 email informing families the playground would be open, Ponds said he would be in touch with the district’s business office. He has not yet responded to follow-up questions sent to his district email Tuesday morning.  

Krenn has not yet responded to questions about the playground’s progress sent to his district email beginning Nov. 17. 

The announcement of the playground’s opening ran contrary to prior communications from the district. At the Dec. 1 Montclair Board of Education meeting, Ponds said the playground would remain closed while under construction. Parette Somjen Architects, overseeing the playground’s construction, did not want to be held liable for any injuries on the unfinished structure, Ponds said. 

Board members Kathryn Weller-Demming and Eric Scherzer asked at the Dec. 1 meeting if there was a way to secure the unfinished portion of the Watchung playground to allow students to play in the rest of the space. 

“These children did not get to use the playground at the end of last year under the premise that it would be done in a timely fashion,” Weller-Demming said at the Dec. 1 board meeting. “And it is already basically too cold to use it.”

The playground’s completion was originally set for Aug. 19, according to a fact sheet on the district’s website

At the Dec. 6 meeting of the board’s facilities and finance committee, chaired by Scherzer, it was reported that Parette Somjen would not sign off on the completion of the playground “since a number of items necessary for completion have not yet arrived,” according to the committee meeting notes

A voicemail left on the Parette Somjen Architects’ office phone Monday has not yet been returned.

The remaining playground components have been shipped to the district, but it is unclear when they will arrive, board administrator Nicholas Cipriano said at the Dec. 1 Montclair Board of Education meeting.

“Just like most of the materials for the work being done in district, delivery dates are unknown,” Cipriano said at the Dec. 1 meeting. 

Supply chain delays have slowed work across the district, especially ongoing upgrades to the district’s aging heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. During discussions of a proposed $15.5 million HVAC upgrade project in September, Parette Somjen associate Will Ross said procurement of the project’s materials would take upward of six months.

​​In 2019, the Montclair Board of Education approved plans to renovate and expand Watchung Field — which high school students use for lacrosse and field hockey — by cutting into the space previously used by the playground. The field suffered heavy damage during a rainstorm in August 2018, lifting and displacing the turf’s infill layer. Work was expected to commence in May 2021, but was put on hold for a week while district officials talked with parents concerned the field would get longer at the expense of the playground. The district’s fact sheet, though, said after reconfiguration the playing area would be 2,000 square feet larger than the original playground.

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