Generations of students studied nature at the New Jersey School of Conservation, which has been part of Montclair State for nearly 40 years, but as a result of costs associated with the coronavirus crisis, the University announced in May that it plans to close the School July 1 and return management of the buildings and land to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
The University’s action was taken as part of its necessary response to a 26% cut in its operating appropriation by the state in March and the at least $24 million of expenses it has incurred as a result of the coronavirus crisis, for a cumulative negative impact of approximately $34 million.
The New Jersey School of Conservation was established in 1949 on a 240-acre site within the Stokes State Forest in Sussex County. In 1981, the Legislature transferred management of the School from the Department of Environmental Protection to Montclair State and provided an annual appropriation for its operation and maintenance. The School offered environmental education for teachers and students in schools and colleges, and it was used by the University as a field research station. After FY2010, the line item appropriation was eliminated, and the University experienced a continued decline in state operating appropriations. Nevertheless, Montclair State continued to support the School’s operating costs and its buildings, grounds and equipment needs, in an effort to sustain this important educational and historical state asset. Given the latest cut in state appropriation, especially in the current stressed environment, the University can no longer subsidize the School without any operating or capital assistance for it from the state.
“In an era when both the science of conservation, and the education of future generations about conservation is critically important, it is a matter of genuine and considerable regret to the University that we can no longer maintain the School,” said Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole.
“Without any investment by the state over the past 9 years, the University has found itself increasingly unable to sustain the quality of activity deserving of the School and the students, and with the current severe cuts to the University’s budget in FY2020, we simply cannot maintain it any longer,” Cole said. “The New Jersey School of Conservation is yet one more casualty of the coronavirus, and it is a circumstance of great disappointment to me personally and to the University community that we must take this action.”
The facility has been closed during the pandemic, and the University will relinquish control of the property effective July 1. As a result of the loss of funding and closing of the School, 18 full-time and two part-time employees will be laid off, in compliance with their respective collective bargaining agreements, later in July.