Called 'less than ideal,' portables still have fans

September 07, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD


They're better than regular classrooms, said Emily Floyd, a fifth-grader at Pangborn Elementary School.

Like all fifth-grade students at Pangborn, 10-year-old Emily spends much of the school day in a portable classroom, a 24-foot-by-36-foot, single-room trailer on a lot near the main building.

Emily said she likes portable classrooms because they're air conditioned, something the 50-year-old main building isn't. Her portable is brightly lighted, with computers, televisions and projectors.

"They're pretty cool," said Emily.

Administrators say portable classrooms are a stopgap measure for dealing with overcrowding in Washington County Public Schools.

The school system added 19 portables this year, for a total of 67. One portable costs about $90,000, school officials said.


Pangborn Elementary has the most portable classrooms of any school in the county. Principal Kara Reed said 180 students at Pangborn attend class in one of the school's 11 portables.

The portables at Pangborn are scattered in clumps, like mini trailer park communities. The classrooms have tiled floors, white paneled walls and large green chalkboards - much like regular classrooms.

But space is at a premium in Emily's portable.

The 23 students in her class have to stack their books and folders on the floor against a wall by the door because there are no "cubbies" or shelves. Every part of the room is used for some form of storage, said Emily's teacher, Jill Waters.

Despite the space constraints, Waters said she didn't mind teaching in a portable.

"I kind of like the quietness of it," she said. "I like having my own space. Of course, I love the (air conditioning)."

The scenario is different for high school students, who don't spend most of the day in the portable classrooms.

At South Hagerstown High School, which has five portables, history teacher Gene Ebersol shares his portable with three other teachers. He said the portables aren't much different from regular classrooms, but not all of his students agree.

"I thought since I was a junior, I wouldn't have to get stuck in one of these, but I did," said Sarah Miller, 16, who is in Ebersol's AP history class. "It hasn't rained yet, so we haven't gotten the worst of it."

Classmate Amy Tark, 16, a junior, said she didn't mind having to go outside to get to class.

"It's better than staying inside the building all day," she said.

School officials say portables could pose security risks for students who go back and forth from the main building.

Students have to go to the main building for lunch and specialized classes such as music, gym and art. They also have to go inside to use the bathroom.

Administrators have a hard time monitoring students when they're outside between buildings, Reed said.

Pangborn students need access cards to enter and exit the main building, but the access cards aren't required for the portables. Teachers require students to sign out if they ask permission to go to the bathroom. They usually go in pairs, Reed said.

"We have plans in place to address the security issues in the case of an emergency," Reed said.

Chief Operating Officer William Blum said portable classrooms were "less than ideal" learning environments, and said space for portables wouldn't last. But he said they were the only solution until more schools were built.

Construction on a bigger school for Pangborn could start as early as next year, Blum said.

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