Montclair school district takes next steps on $187.7 million bond referendum work
(KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
Montclair school district leaders are taking the next steps on the $187.7 million project to repair and upgrade district schools — hiring a construction management company to oversee the six-year project, solidifying a group of expert volunteers to advise the district and authorizing the sale of $70 million in school bonds.
The undertaking received overwhelming support in the Nov. 8 election, with 84% of Montclair voters approving. With the average age of its schools at 99 years, the Montclair school district says, the investment will go to all 11 of its schools — including Glenfield Middle School, built in 1896 — as well as the Montclair Community Pre-K building, Woodman Field and the administration building.
Leading up to the vote, Montclair Board of Education members, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and other stakeholders emphasized the role a construction management company would play in carrying out plans successfully.
The construction manager will work with the district architect and the district to map out the projects – when and where work can be done, how long materials will take to arrive and the selection of contractors. The manager will also report to the board’s finance and facilities committee, the superintendent and the public on progress of the projects.
At an Oct. 17 school board meeting, business administrator Christina Hunt said the construction manager would provide weekly reports, which would be posted to the district website, alongside other project updates.
“As we've said many times over the past few months, there is a critically important role for a construction manager because this is a really complex problem,” Eric Scherzer, chair of the finance and facilities committee, said at the Oct. 17 meeting. “And we need somebody with a great degree of experience to oversee project logistics, procurement timing, proper completion of work, to ensure that the district is proceeding in the most economical manner with the least possible disruption for our children, our staff and for the learning process.”
The district’s request for proposal for construction management services is due back Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 10 a.m.
To ensure that the district selects the company best suited to the job, district leaders have reached out to the community, looking for residents with expertise in the fields of construction and large-scale project planning.
At the Dec. 12 board meeting, the board approved a resolution appointing four Montclair residents to a citizens advisory committee to help choose a construction management company. The volunteers are Scott Frank, Charles Griffith, Steven Plofker and David Placek.
The board will be free to accept or reject the recommendations of the committee, the resolution says. The committee members have also signed a confidentiality agreement, acknowledgement and waiver legally agreeing to keep all information from the committee’s work strictly confidential, the resolution says.
“We have just an amazing group of outstanding volunteers who've stepped forward from the community,” Scherzer said at a Nov. 2 board meeting.
Frank, an HVAC design engineer and Montclair schools parent, has 35 years of experience in the design and execution of large commercial and institutional construction projects, Scherzer said at the Nov. 2 meeting. Frank is a managing partner at Jaros, Baum & Bolles, a large mechanical electrical engineering firm based in New York City, where he leads the sustainable design portion of the firm.
“As part of his professional practice, he's become an expert in indoor air quality issues, also energy efficiency and low carbon building design,” Scherzer said.
During his career, Frank has worked on many large projects, including Columbia University Manhattanville, Hudson Yards and World Trade Center Towers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 in New York City, David Cantor, the district’s executive director of communications and community engagement, said Tuesday.
Griffith, also a Montclair schools parent, is associate principal at Ennead Architects in New York City.
During his 40-year career as a project manager and project architect, he has worked on renovation projects that include Carnegie Hall, the New York City Center, the Metropolitan Opera and the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan, Cantor said.
Griffith has read and written contracts, reviewed designs and technical details, and worked closely with construction managers in the cost-estimating and construction phases of projects, Scherzer said.
The third member, Plofker, is a real estate developer, lawyer and businessman, Cantor said. Plofker’s children have graduated from the Montclair schools.
Plofker has served on several New Jersey boards and is a commissioner of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. His projects in Montclair include the George Hotel, 18 Label Studios and 7 North Willow Street, Cantor said.
Placek, the final committee member, is managing director at BDP Holdings, a Montclair-based real estate investment company. BDP’s properties in Montclair include Lackawanna Plaza and the Leach building and adjacent buildings.
Placek is also a Montclair schools parent.
By sharing details about the volunteers, Scherzer said he wanted to keep Montclair residents informed.
“I hope that that gives the board and the community a sense of the kinds of individuals who have stepped forward and should give the degree of confidence that that's the kind of advice that the superintendent is seeking and will be listening to as we decide the first steps of this project,” Scherzer said.
At the board’s Dec. 12 meeting, board members also approved a resolution authorizing the sale of the first $70 million authorized by the bond referendum – a little more than a third of the $187.7 million. The bonds will be sold on Jan. 18 via the Parity Electronic Bid System, which allows for bids from across the country, not just local investors, Andrea L. Kahn, the district’s bond attorney, said at the Dec. 12 meeting.
The bonds will be sold through The Depository Trust Co. located in New York City, which will keep track of the beneficial owners of those bonds, Kahn said.
The district plans to issue bonds three times over the next five years, with each bond set for a 20-year issue. The yearly cost for the average homeowner in Montclair over the 24-year course of repaying the bonds is expected to be $732, beginning with an expected $258 increase in 2023. At the height of the bond costs, the average taxpayer will be paying about $2 each day.