Montclair State to close N.J. School of Conservation, can no longer afford to operate it

Montclair State University said on Friday it is closing down the New Jersey School of Conservation since it no longer can subsidize the school without any operating or capital assistance from the state. The school said it will return management of the buildings and land back to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The university said the actions were taken in reaction to a 26% cut of its operational appropriation by the state in March and the $24 million of expenses related to COVID-19, for a total negative impact of $34 million.

Established in 1949 on a 240-acre site within the Stokes State Forest, the conservation school offered environmental education for teachers and students as well as a field research station. In 1981 the Legislature transferred management from the DEP to Montclair State and provided an annual appropriation for it. Given the latest cut in state appropriations, especially amid the global pandemic, the university said it can no longer afford to keep the school open.

“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,” Susan A. Cole, president, Montclair State University, said.

The facility, which has been closed since the pandemic, will be taken over by the DEP on July 1.

“Without any investment by the State over the past nine 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.”

As a result of the loss of funding, 18 full-time staffers and two part-timers will be laid off later in July, the university said.