By ERIN ROLL
How do Montclair’s school ventilation systems look ahead of a possible return to classrooms?
On spreadsheets released by the district, they appear better than they did a few months ago, when a report by EI Associates showed many rooms throughout the school system with non-working ventilation, or no ventilation at all. EI estimated it would cost $26 million to fully remediate the aging buildings.
But there’s some information the new breakdowns, also by EI, don’t clarify. That’s one of the sticking points for the Montclair Education Association, which the school district announced this week it would sue over the union’s refusal to return to class. It’s unclear if or when the return, which the district had planned for elementary school students on Jan. 25 and for older students Feb. 8, will happen.
Last week, the MEA said in a press statement the district “lied about their commitment to fix or update the needed spaces, as there never was a second engineering report attesting to the remediations.” Montclair Local also asked the district in a public records request to provide the most recent engineering report it has. On Monday, Feb. 1, the school system provided the same report released last fall.
But the district has provided some information on temporary fixes, in addition to the new spreadsheets. Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds has said the district upgraded hundreds of mechanical systems, fixed windows so they can be opened and installed 400 air purifiers purchased at a cost of $400,000.
The spreadsheets, posted to the district’s website, show where purifiers are installed in the elementary schools as well as the middle schools and high school, and have updated classifications for the status of ventilation in each room.
The original report surveyed 1,024 classrooms, offices, nurse’s suites, gyms, restrooms, assembly rooms and other occupiable spaces in each of the district’s buildings. At the time, 82 percent of those rooms had either no HVAC equipment at all, or HVAC equipment that was not in full working order.
A rating of green meant a room had HVAC equipment, and it was working (181 rooms and spaces, or 18%). Yellow meant a room had HVAC equipment, but it was not working (578 rooms and spaces, or 56%). Red meant the room had no mechanical ventilation, and therefore would require other means of air circulation, such as open windows or air purifiers (265 rooms, or 26%).
What the updates don’t show
Most classrooms that were listed as yellow in the fall report are now listed as green. But the new spreadsheets do not include all rooms detailed in the earlier report. For instance, the original report detailed 112 rooms at Hillside School, while the new spreadsheet provides information for only 62 rooms. The initial report included many smaller rooms such as restrooms, both in-classroom and outside of the classroom; the new spreadsheets don’t include some of those rooms.
Montclair Local sent Ponds a message seeking clarification on those points, as well as asking how many classrooms at each building would be in use when the school reopens, whether any classrooms marked in the “red” or “yellow” categories would be in use — many are indicated to have air purifiers but still are given the lower ratings — and what the next steps for rooms deemed unusable would be.
Ponds answered on Thursday, Jan. 28 — three days after he’d previously planned for schools to open: “We are working with the district’s attorney.” Days later, the district announced its lawsuit.
The district also hasn’t answered Montclair’s Local’s questions about how further specific information about the spreadsheets would be released to parents, or how many rooms had been declared to be unusable in all.
Improvements throughout schools
Charles H. Bullock School, which is the newest of Montclair’s school buildings, wasn’t included in the original report. But the new spreadsheets classify all of its rooms as green — meaning they have working HVAC.
Montclair High School’s buildings still show much work to be done, with the spreadsheets showing that the majority of rooms are still classified as either red or yellow.
Some of the most prominent improvements were at the Montclair Community Pre-K building, where all but two classrooms were upgraded from yellow to green.
Edgemont Montessori School went from having no green rooms at all to having 18 green rooms. Hillside School went from having nearly all of its classrooms and instruction rooms classified as yellow to having all green classrooms.
At the elementary schools, all rooms still marked yellow or red have purifiers, according to the new spreadsheets. In the middle and high schools, that’s true of most rooms, but a few are marked as “landlocked” and not for use. Those include some boys showers, offices, storage spaces, a training room, resource rooms and a speech room.
At Watchung, Bradford, Edgemont and Nishuane schools, nurse’s offices were marked red, but with purifiers.
See the spreadsheets below: