The high school will remain open through the end of the year, district officials announced Tuesday, May 7. But the bidding process to fix the stairwells will have to start over and a petition has started to stop the postponement.

“I have elected to recommend to the board that we keep the high school open through graduation day. All asbestos removal and repair work would then commence on June 27,” said Superintendent Kendra Johnson in an email to parents.  

But high school junior Thomas Lee started a petition to counteract the postponement of the construction.

School officials had suggested closing the main building on May 20 for asbestos and stairwell replacement, and moving classes to the annex. Students would be on a transitional schedule, which included three hours of classes and three hours of study hall. Parents balked at asking students to sit in a three-hall study hall.

Parent Jessica Henry garnered over 750 signatures on her petition suggesting a new schedule that would eliminate or reduce the three-hour study period by offering other options. Lee’s petition however has garnered 911 signatures as of Tuesday night.

“A large portion of students found comfort and relief following the announcement of the proposed May 20 plan. This plan not only provides a solution to the problems students would face this year, but would prevent interference with the 2019-20 school year. However, a recent push by a small group of parents who are attempting to prevent the implementation of the plan has caused enormous stress for the high school students. The group of parents without a doubt have valid claims however do not fully understand the struggle that students have faced over the past year as well as the negative effects of postponing the construction,” Lee’s petition reads.

Johnson stated in her email about allowing the students to remain in the main building through June 26 that the district wanted to “reduce the inconvenience to Montclair High School students and staff further and retain as much normalcy for the remainder of the 2018-19 school year.”

The students lost access to second and third floor classrooms after stairwells were shut down in the beginning of year due to structural concerns with four stairwells. Classes were moved to auditoriums, cafeterias and rented trailers.

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Officials said that the only way to get the construction done by the start of the next school year was to begin the work in May, and that would require closing the school.

In addition, Johnson is now recommending that the board rescind the contract awarded on April 15 to Drill Construction of West Orange, and go out to bid again on May 17. A new contract could be awarded at the first board meeting in June, with a start date of June 27 specifying an eight-week repair timeline.

A new contract could be awarded at the first board meeting in June, with a start date of June 27 specifying an eight-week repair timeline.

This would be the third round of bids for the asbestos removal and stairwell replacement work. In the first round, three bids came in over bid of the district’s bond resolution amount of $1.5 million, and another bid was rejected for not including sufficient documentation.

At the most recent BOE meeting, BOE President Laura Hertzog cautioned that delaying the project would mean that only two staircases would likely be completed and classes would continue in trailers in the fall.

In the case of construction extending past eight weeks the district would extend the lease on the trailers for six months and schedule a meeting with the local fire officials to ascertain how many classrooms on the third floor could be accessed if only two or three of the stair towers are repaired by the start of the school year.  

“The goal will be to have all four stair towers repaired; however, it is critical that we manage expectations given the unforeseeable nature of repairs in a 100+ year-old building,” said Johnson.