During the Montclair school district’s second and final town hall to discuss the upcoming $187.7 million bond referendum to repair and upgrade schools, parents asked for more information about the logistics of the proposed projects, if voters say yes to the bond question.

While expressing support for the referendum question, people attending the town hall wanted to know how the district would ensure transparency once projects began and what would happen if something went wrong.

On Nov. 8, Montclair voters will be asked to support a $187.7 million bond referendum measure, including work in all 11 of the district's schools. The proposal would allow the district to issue bonds three times over the next five years, with each bond set for a 20-year issue. The 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. 

To find out the tax impact on homes worth more or less than the average assessment of a home in Montclair of $628,952, visit the PTA Council’s website to access a tax calculator. 

When asked by a few parents during the town hall how progress would be monitored and shared with the public, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said he had just begun to speak with his staff about having a forum dedicated to projects on the district website. He was also considering a committee of individuals to help monitor the projects and give regular updates about how things are going, he said. 

If voters say yes to the bonds in November, the district would regularly update its website with presentations, requests for proposals, bid advertisements, project manuals, construction manager weekly reports and photos before, during and after the repairs and upgrades, business administrator Christina Hunt said at an Oct. 17 Board of Education meeting.

Also at that meeting, Eric Scherzer, chair of the finance and facilities committee, announced the district was looking for volunteers from the community with “extraordinary expertise in the field of construction and large-scale project planning” to assist in choosing a construction management firm.

“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,” Scherzer said. “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 volunteers would not receive any compensation and would be asked to sign a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement, he said.

“This is a little unusual,” Scherzer said. “We haven't always done this before. But this is such a big, important step for the community that I think the committee felt, and the superintendent and the business administrator, that we should take advantage of every possible resource in this community.”

Note: Glenfield Middle School was first constructed in 1896, not 1921, according to further research by the district. The average age of school buildings is actually 99 years old. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR SCHOOL DISTRICT)

Hunt is drafting a request for proposal for the construction manager position that the district plans to publish in late October or early November, Scherzer said. That way, if the referendum measure passes, the hiring and planning can begin immediately. 

The construction manager would oversee all of the referendum projects and would be asked to keep the public informed about what’s going on by making presentations regularly and answering questions, Ponds said. 

The finance and facilities committee would also give regular reports at school board meetings, Scherzer said at the town hall. 

“We will be vigilant to ensure a) that the community is involved and b) that we’re reporting out on a regular basis,” he said. 

While she’s a “big supporter of rebuilding our schools,” parent Eileen Birmingham said she and others have felt “burned” by the district and the township as playground repairs were drawn out longer than expected and two of three municipal pools remained closed all summer.

“These are some of the oldest schools in New Jersey,” Birmingham said at the town hall. “What happens when you crack into ceilings? Do we know if there's asbestos there?”

Each building has an Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act Report that is updated every six months with all known locations of asbestos, whether it's in the floor tiles, wall tiles, ceilings or elsewhere, Will Ross, the lead architect on the proposal, responded. Ross and his associates have referenced and will continue to reference the reports as they plan projects in the schools, he said. 

“Also the state mandates that we include contingencies for things that are unforeseen, that we may run into,” Ross said. “Inside the walls, there may be additional materials, like wrap insulation, that you may not see. But based on working in the state and buildings of this type and age, we kind of know what we're in for.”


The district would bid out the projects to contractors who would be legally required to provide the agreed-upon product or service. Contracts of this nature often include limits on how much the contractor can run over the agreed-upon costs, deadlines by when the projects have to be finished and penalty fees when work is not completed on schedule, board Vice President Priscilla Church said at the town hall. 

“Stuff does happen,” Church said. “But we're not in this alone. We're not just an inexperienced group of people that are working with a lot of money to put a big project together. That's just not the way it works.”

In the case that material or labor costs end up higher than anticipated and the district finds itself without the funds to execute every project enumerated in the bond referendum project list, the board “would have to make some difficult choices,” Andrea L. Kahn, the district’s bond attorney, said at the town hall. 


Because the school district is permitted to spend only the amount of money that has been approved by voters, the board would discuss how best to deliver the promised projects, she said.

“The district is obligated to deliver the project in good faith as best that it can,” Kahn said. “They can't just abandon it. They can't just decide, ‘Oh, we changed our mind, we can't do it.’” 

In the event that costs are lower than expected and there is money left over, the only thing the district could do would be to pay down the principal of the project at the earliest possible time, Kahn said. 

Parent Colleen Dougherty asked how much “wiggle room” the district would have between what was proposed and what could actually be built.  

The district does have “flexibility in substituting materials and designs,” Kahn said. 

“Sometimes, the plan will show one type of material and maybe that becomes impractical or maybe in reviewing it with the construction manager and others, better ideas come up,” she said. “As long as the intent of the referendum, the purpose of the referendum, is met and the improvements are provided, the exact details there is some flexibility with.”