Montclair High School students describe disruptions after staircase collapse
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
By ERIN ROLL
With four staircases and two floors blocked off at Montclair High School, students and staff have had to adjust to a change in routine.
A staircase collapse this month has caused 31 classrooms to be inaccessible and students and teachers to be relocated.
The staircase facing the Park Street entrance partially collapsed on Sept. 7. After an inspection of all stairwells, the district’s architects have recommended demolishing and rebuilding all four staircases in the original 1914 section of the building.
After the stair collapse, sophomore Madeline Schanen’s history class was initially moved to the auditorium, and her English class was moved to the cafeteria.
“These two places were kind of distracting because in both the cafeteria and the auditorium it was hard to hear my teachers from other classes going on, as well as [to] take notes,” she said.
The history class has been moved to a George Inness Annex classroom, which she said was a significant improvement.
Even with the inconvenience of maneuvering from class to class because of the staircase closures, she said it was for the best due to safety issues. “Better to have class in a cafeteria than have another staircase collapse,” she said.
Senior Macy Ryan said the school year has gotten off to a distracted, slow start. “The days we were in there [cafeteria and auditorium], we couldn’t really do any work, which was kind of frustrating,” she said. One of her teachers was unable to access her notes for the class, which were in one of the blocked-off classrooms.
The teachers have been allowed upstairs to retrieve items, such as school-issued laptops. Custodians also retrieved some items from students’ lockers. Since Ryan’s locker is on a lower floor, she still had access to her books and school supplies. But some of her classmates were worried about items they’d left in their lockers upstairs — especially food.
Several of the guidance counselors had to be relocated, which meant that students and staff do not have quick access to some records.
For juniors and seniors, with the college application process ahead of them, this is especially problematic. Ryan has not yet received some grades for some of her courses, including some grades needed for her transcripts and applications. “We need those grades to help us,” she said.
Last year, the students were asked to fill out guidance paperwork for their college application process. But because the packets are kept in the guidance offices on the third floors, the students were told recently they would have to re-do all the paperwork.
On Monday, Ryan said students were starting to adjust to the changes in routine.
“I think at first it was a lot of confusion and frustration,” she said, with students upset at not knowing what exactly was going on. There were wild rumors circulating, including students having to be moved to another school, or missed days having to be made up over the summer.
She said the small learning groups, such as the Civics and Government Institute (CGI) and the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), still had not been settled into regular classrooms.
Senior Kimoni Depass said four of her nine classes, including a science class that regularly meets on the third floor, had been disrupted because of the staircase closures.
Some of her classes were initially held in the auditorium.
“Let’s say it was almost impossible to learn anything in a space with over 400 other people,” she said.
Some classes as of Monday were still being held in the auditorium, while others had been relocated to the George Inness Annex. Depass said classes were often being shifted from one part of the campus to another at a moment’s notice, creating a challenge for students.
Traveling from class to class takes longer, since a larger number of students are heading up and down the remaining opened staircases.
The staircase collapse is evidence of a larger problem, of the district not following through on needed maintenance over the years, said Depass.
“Personally, the current condition of the school has left me feeling very disappointed and upset,” she said. “This is due to the fact that Montclair is able to provide so many of its students with amazing opportunities, but has neglected the most basic need, of having a school building to provide an education to their students. This lack of stability in my education has made my ability to learn, and enjoy my education at the same time, almost impossible.”
As of Monday, the district had not released information on portable classrooms that are expected to be set up while the staircases are being rebuilt.
Two stairwells will be rebuilt simultaneously and are expected to take eight weeks. When that work is completed, work will begin on the other two. More specific dates for demolition and construction have not yet been released.
“Things are getting better now that most displaced classes have new rooms, and they’re providing more supplies to classes that are still in bigger spaces,” said a staffer who declined to be named.
However, many students still don’t have lockers while teachers have limited space to plan lessons and store materials. “I think most of us will get into a groove, but some are dealing with it better than others so far.
“We’re making lemonade out of lemons and learning on the fly, and we’re pulling together to get it done.”