Schools rethink use of portable classrooms

July 09, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

No one has to convince Clear Spring Elementary School Principal Jill Burkhart that the best way to deal with overcrowding is to enlarge the school building instead of adding a portable classroom.

"While they give you relief, they bring with them their own special problems," Burkhart said.

--cont from front page--

There are 22 relocatable classrooms at Washington County schools, including three at Clear Spring. One of the Clear Spring portables is used for art classes.

There is no water service in the building used for art, and that means teachers have to carry five-gallon buckets of water into the portable classroom every day to clean paintbrushes and other equipment, Burkhart said.

The heat fails periodically in the portable classrooms, forcing teachers to move students into the main building until it can be fixed. There are no bathrooms in the buildings, and students sometimes have to walk through snow, ice or rain when going to or from the main building, Burkhart said.


A school official told the school board Tuesday night that the number of students is expected to grow in coming years, and the best way to provide the extra space is by expanding schools.

Washington County has gained about 1,400 students in the last five years and enrollment is expected to increase by another 800 to 900 students in the next three years, said Dennis McGee, director of facilities management.

"I've got to house them somewhere. I could run out and get portables, but I don't think that's the best use of money," said McGee.

Portable classrooms are square-shaped structures that can be moved on flatbed trailers from school to school as needed.

McGee said after they have been moved several times, the portable classrooms can begin to deteriorate structurally.

As the school board begins wrestling with student growth, McGee suggested they consider expanding schools, which he said can be done at almost the same cost as adding relocatable classrooms.

A relocatable classroom costs about $100,000, while adding a classroom to a school costs about $125,000, McGee said.

For a little more money, the district gets a permanent classroom and one that is more conducive to learning because it is attached to the school, McGee said.

McGee said he wanted to talk to the school board about the issue, particularly in light of the fact that six elementary schools in the county that are over capacity.

Clear Spring is one of those schools. It has a state-rated capacity of 369 students but has 406.

Sharpsburg, Hickory, Maugansville, Potomac Heights and Williamsport elementary schools also are over capacity.

School board member Andrew R. Humphreys said McGee's arguments make sense.

Humphreys said there is a common perception in the county that the student population is not growing, "but according to our records they are."

Humphreys said the board likely will begin planning for anticipated student growth in the fall when it puts together its capital improvements budget.

If it's decided to expand schools, it would be best to build an addition that contains five classrooms, according to McGee. The cost of each such expansion would be about $750,000, he said.

McGee said convincing the Washington County Commissioners of the importance of the expansions will be another matter.

The Herald-Mail Articles