OAKLAND -- Montclair Elementary School students began the school year Monday in a new building, completed in the nick of time.
The building is the culmination of a five-year process, in which Principal Nancy Bloom and parents played a significant part in the design and construction process.
"The school was finished by the force of Nancy Bloom. No one else could have done it," said school psychologist Susan Demersseman.
Bloom was pleased with the outcome.
"It changes the feeling of the school," she said. "It's more open and is a more kid user-friendly environment. It's systematically laid out and much better for kids."
"I'm really proud and excited. There is still work to be done, but we made it by the skin of our teeth. It's been a very long process," said Larry McKidd, parent of a fifth-grader and the parent chair of the construction committee. "
The two-story building houses 10 new classrooms occupied by the third, fourth and fifth grades and a multipurpose room designed to hold as many as 600 people. The building is a green design, maximizing natural sunlight and airflow. Windows on each side of the classroom allow for natural light as well as breezes to cool the building off on hot days. And each room is also equipped with large ceiling fans.
Lower-floor classrooms feature outdoor learning areas and easy access to classroom garden plots. A full kitchen will be installed in the multipurpose room, complete with a dishwasher so food will be cooked on the site instead of at a central facility. There is an observation deck that overlooks a rooftop garden, known as a living roof, above the auditorium.
"It has a mini-university feel to it," said Tobin Broadhurst, the parent of a second- and fifth-grader. "It has a modern New England liberal arts college-feel to it."
Nia Warren, a Montclair alumna and high school sophomore, agreed.
"There are a lot more people here now, she said. The school has grown from 350 students to more than 550 in the past five years. "It feels like an academy. There is a feeling of enthusiasm."
"It's gorgeous. I'm so impressed," said PTA President Melissa Raymond. "It's so beautiful. I couldn't want more for my kids to go to school. It makes sense. Now we have a space where the whole school can gather at once. It will help with the community dynamic."
Noontime sports coach Andre Preston was also pleased.
"I've got the room to do what we haven't been able to do for the past two years," he said, referring to noontime football and baseball games, popular among upper classmen. "It's a smart use of space."
Parents also weighed in on the new building.
"What a blessing," said Gloria Rynes, the mother of twins in the fifth grade. "It's been wonderful to watch this school come together to build this. It makes my heart stop."
"This is very exciting. This is the first new construction in Montclair in a long time. It's nice to see the progression in our community," said Maggie Rogers, parent of a fifth-grader.
Meanwhile, contractors are still at work putting the final touches on the school, which Bloom said should be completed before Halloween.
"I love it. I really love it. The whole feel of it is so good to me. When I see it come to fruition, I get tickled all over again," Bloom said.