Montclair High School will be getting portable classrooms in late October, as the district prepares to start rebuilding four staircases in the old section of the school. However, an inspection found traces of asbestos, delaying construction of the staircases that have been closed down since the start of school.

Thirty-one classrooms in the original high school building are inaccessible due to a partial staircase collapse since Sept. 7 and the closure of four staircases soon after. Classes have been moved to other areas of the high school, including the auditorium and the cafeteria.

Superintendent Kendra Johnson made the announcement during the Oct. 3 board of education meeting.

The district’s architects recommended replacing all four of the staircases in the 102-year-old building, after an inspection. Two staircases will be done at a time.

No date on the staircase replacement was given, as the district will now have to contend with asbestos abatement.


Four trailers, containing eight classrooms in total, are expected to arrive on Oct. 24.

The double-wide trailers are ADA-accessible, air-conditioned and outfitted with carpeting and WiFi, Johnson said.

The trailers will be set up in the parking lot at the George Inness Annex. The school is working with the township to arrange alternate parking arrangements for staff, and the trailers will be inspected by the Montclair Fire Department. The district is working with MHS administrators to arrange student schedules when the trailers are in place, Johnson said.

“And we thank the young people for their flexibility, and we thank the teachers for their amazing flexibility and leadership in this situation,” Johnson said about the disruption.


A preliminary test in the stairwell did not find any traces of asbestos. However, a more comprehensive test from the stairwell walls detected asbestos in all four closed stairwells, though not in the part of the stairwell that had been damaged. A total of 50 samples of plaster were taken from the walls and ceilings in the four stairwells. Of those, 28 samples tested positive for chrysotile asbestos. The percentages of asbestos in each sample ranged from less than 1 percent to 2 percent.

The damaged part of the staircase was on the basement level of the school, while the wall samples were taken from the first, second and third floors.

The district has also conducted air quality tests in the stairwell facing Midland Avenue. Two of the five samples tested negative for asbestos. The other three samples will have to be re-done because they contained dust.

The reports were posted on the district website on Oct. 5.

The samples were collected by Englewood Cliffs-based company Detail Associates and sent for testing at a lab in New York.

A letter from Detail Associates advised the district to consider all of the stairwells’ building materials as asbestos-containing and to act accordingly.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cautions that there are no “safe levels” of asbestos for abatement workers, and that protective gear must be worn when handling materials containing asbestos. However construction debris with one percent or less of asbestos is not considered hazardous asbestos waste and can be thrown away as construction debris.

Public comments

During the public comment period, Andrew Gideon and Steve Newmark pressed the board for more information regarding a detailed timeline of construction, including when certain construction benchmarks would be met.

Board President Laura Hertzog said it was anticipated that the BOE would have a meeting with the Board of School Estimate at a later date to determine what additional capital funds would be needed for the project.

“We’re very sorry. I don’t know if we’ve been clear on that. I’m so sorry that the staff and the students, you have this disruption,” Hertzog said. “We do empathize with the fact that we have students and staff dealing with something they never would have expected.”

She emphasized that the board was doing everything in its power to get the situation remedied. “But we know no matter what we do, it kind of stinks.”