By Jaimie Julia Winters

For the past five months, the Montclair Kimberley Academy community has grown to include construction workers, bulldozers, engineers and lots of cones.

The school’s Orange Road campus for pre-K through third-graders is entering the final phase of its $30 million decade-old Future Forward Campaign with the onset of construction for expansion and improvement.

MKA construction
Students signed their names on the beams of the new cafeteria and auditorium.

The projects include the construction of a new combined auditorium and dining area, a new kitchen and cafeteria, a redesigned entry with gallery and admissions suite, creation of outdoor classroom space, the addition of more restroom facilities, as well as increasing available parking and expanding the car-line. MKA anticipates completion of the project for its 220-student population in the summer of 2019.

Students currently eat lunch in their classrooms as there has not been a dining space on campus.

“This is one on the most exciting new features for our students and provides a space for opportunities for social emotional learning,” said Rachel Geringer-Dunn, MKA’s head of primary school.

MKA construction
Children sign beam to cafe and auditorium.

The space is designed as a flexible space. When used daily as a dining space, it will accommodate approximately 100 students at a time. As an auditorium, the space can accommodate over 400 seats for performances.

Plans also include a double lane loop for drop-off and pick-ups of students outside the school. Cars backing up along Orange Road and Warren Street have been problematic for some time with the current one-way drop-off/pick-up driveway, which only allowed for 19 cars in the queue. A two-way loop will more than double that, allowing for 42 cars to wait in the queue.

The parking lot will also be reconfigured from the current 50 spaces to 70 spaces, where 83 are required.

In November, steel columns began to rise and the school’s new building began to take shape. Instead of being inconvenienced by the change happening on campus, the staff is engaging students with the project. Involvement with the project has ranged from observational writing assignments, to creating a "history mystery" play set in the construction site, to engineering discussions on the "how" and the "why" of the building process. Additionally, members of the expansion team — from the architect to the construction site manager to the safety and security team — have held talks with the students, according to Geringer-Dunn.

"We are embracing this work around us and using the project as a teaching example of process, hard work and follow-through,” said Tom Nammack, MKA’s headmaster. “These improvements will enhance the overall educational experience creating an environment of greater community, learning and growth for our students and faculty.”

On Nov. 1, MKA’s students, teachers, faculty and trustees came out to celebrate the progress to date and to memorialize the moment by signing their names on a steel beam.

“Signing their names on a steel beam that has been added to this transformative project, our students are now part of the building forever,” said Geringer-Dunn. “Our students are part of this transformative project and have left their mark on a part of MKA's history."

A six-foot fence will be replaced along the northern property line.

Landscaping changes include the addition of two landscaped berms along Orange Road, one between the northern and central driveways and one between the central and southern driveways.

The Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the school’s application at its April 25 meeting.

VMA, Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP from Philadelphia, PA worked with the school on assembling the preliminary designs, and Visbeen Construction of Ridgewood is doing the construction.

The campaign, which started in 2008, has allowed MKA to raise necessary funds to make transformational changes to the school’s facilities and infrastructure. The endeavor is funded through a variety of sources including financing and plant reserves as well as $2.2 million in philanthropic support from the community.

The project does not involve a plan to expand enrollment at the campus.