Hurricane Ida’s Toll on MHS

Diana Creaser, Staff Writer

Most people were eating dinner or relaxing at home on Sept. 1, 2021, and were not prepared for the nearly five feet of water in basements and the destruction of homes that would result from Hurricane Ida. While families in Montclair were trying to save possessions in their homes, our very own Montclair High was going through a similar experience. 

According to Tap into Montclair, water had risen nearly three feet in the basement of the school, as well as other areas inside MHS. Fire Trucks rushed to the aid of MHS to help begin pumping out water. The removal of water continued into Thursday and the district was forced to close to teachers. 

All students can imagine walking through the ground floor to classes or going to the auditorium for study hall, but the sight of the MHS basement that day was very different from what people are used to. As Montclair streets were appearing as a roaring river, the ground floor of the High School was the same.

Mr. Freeman, principal of Montclair High, said that he received a call and was sent pictures of the basement during the board meeting which had to be stopped due to the flooding.

The next morning, Mr. Freeman met with the buildings and grounds department, Mr. Kelly, and Dr. Ponds to assess the damages from the night prior. 

The ground level of the building held the most water through the night, and it came through the left side of MHS. Rooms 1A, 1B, nine, 10 and 11 were all damaged but have since been repaired. But the storage pit and rooms 12, 15, 16, and the wrestling room are all still out of use, Freeman said.

In a district-wide email from Superintendent Ponds, he explains the clean-up and disinfection procedures that were implemented. 

Pond said, “the district is working in close collaboration with Montclair’s emergency team, Mayor Sean Spiller, Town Manager Timothy Stafford, Fire Chief John Herrmann and Deputy Fire Chief Brian Wilde, Police Chief Todd Conforti and Deputy Police Chief Wil Young, and the Township Community Services Department to assess and address all damage in and around our schools.” 

He also disclosed that other school buildings such as Bradford, Edgemont, and Hillside were affected.

Ponds additionally made the bold decision of announcing that MHS will reopen on the original first day of school date, Sept 9, 2021.

When asked if he ever thought school would be delayed, Freeman said, 

“I really wanted to get us back in but I wanted us to be safe. I didn’t want to rush for the sake of getting back in, and potentially having students and staff not being safe.”

In Pond’s email, he speaks on the remediation process and says, “we have hired outside cleaning companies, arborists, and an electrician to assist them” 

Montclair High received a great amount of support from central office and buildings and grounds worked really hard. Outside crews were hired and worked around the clock to clean, sanitize and get the basement classrooms ready for use. 

Freeman had no questions if school would start but more about whether they have to move an entire floor’s worth of classrooms or only 5. Thanks to the hard work of all involved, some of the basement was ready on the first day. 

But even despite the progress of clean-up, with the deadline of school approaching, many rooms in MHS were still not in the state to hold classes. A handful of classrooms on the ground floor were still marked off, including the architecture room and some French classrooms. 

Freeman explained how he and his team operated on a strict policy as they moved classrooms. In partnership with his assistant principals, the custodial staff, and buildings and grounds together, they made sure the classrooms were safe. Then when different room assignments were determined, departmental supervisors communicated where certain teachers’ classrooms would be moved to. 

Another damage that occurred because of the flood was the loss of some Chrome books Freeman added. Many classrooms in the basement are used as homerooms and unfortunately already had the computers divided and ready for students. Getting them back and ready for students was “really important” to Freeman.

The challenges facing MHS in the last four years have been quite a whirlwind, with the collapsing of stairs, a pandemic, and now, flooding. Freeman said he was pleasantly surprised at how much support he received from families. 

The PTA and families were reaching out and providing lunch to crews working at the High School which was greatly appreciated by all.

MHS students have had to be resiliant and flexible the last four years and their principal knows that. 

When asked if he ever thought the school would flood again, Freeman said, “I hope it never happens again, but by chance it does, I know we have a very supportive town and everyone comes together when we are faced with adversity.”