Sunday, October 30, 2005


The Nashville City Paper outlines some of what the school board is doing to get citizen input into the budget cuts that must be made.

One of places the school board has gone for ideas is Minneapolis, MN. According to the City Paper article Minneapolis initiated an input process called 'repurposing'.

“This whole re-purposing project is about letting the community around that school … decide what’s going to be in that building,” Nevill said. “Their goal is to never leave an empty building in a community.”

Well, I'm all for that. But perhaps we need to rethink the old fashioned brick and mortar school. Perhaps we need to open up that whole facilities mindset and seriously consider some other ways of providing classrooms.

I'll blame the following on Phil Valentine. Some weeks ago on my way to and from I heard a snip of his program where he was discussing modular classrooms. the jist of it was that a central facility is build of brick and mortar. That hub contains the office, gymnasium, library and cafeteria. From that hub modular classrooms radiate, as needed. It's cheaper and quicker to add a modular classroom. It's quicker and cheaper to move these to districts that need extra classrooms. It's cheaper to upgrade modular classrooms as technology and safety and health issues change--and they always do.

Year after year we guesstimate how many students will be enrolled and hand wring when we discover we don't have enough classroom space for them. And while some folks are going to recoil at the thought of portable classrooms for every child we should give this serious consideration in our day and age of mobile societies and the reality that we're never going to get this attendance count 100% right. The next best thing may be to give ourselves the flexibility needed.

The American School Board Journal touched on this issue in June of 2003. They cited Caesar Chavez Elementary School in Corona, CA, Clark County, Nevada School District, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina's largest school district,

Setting up modular classrooms is also much quicker than building a new school from the ground up. Tom Duffy, a lobbyist for California's School Facility Manufacturers Association, says that planning, building, and inspecting a new elementary school takes about two years. But a similar number of modular classroom seats can be installed in just a few months.


The ready-made buildings, which are designed to last more than 50 years, are actually stronger than most traditionally constructed schools, he says.

"It'll stand up to Category 4 hurricanes and it's easily relocatable," Sanger says of his product. "A lot of the schools started using them as permanent buildings."

Because Royal builds its classrooms on an assembly line, the buildings are more cost-effective. Sanger says the total cost for putting in one of his buildings is $90 per square foot, compared to $120 to $140 per square foot for traditional construction.

and yes, there have been problems, but according to this report, most of those have been overcome.

Today's portable classrooms, however, look much more like traditional classrooms, at least on the inside. Most measure 35 feet by 35 feet and are built from far-sturdier materials. Many are wired for telephone, Internet, and cable TV access. The nicest models even have their own restrooms, water fountains, and sinks, meaning bathroom breaks don't interrupt lessons or force students to deal with bad weather.
We've only got so much money. Personally, I'd rather spend money on great teachers and excellent curriculum and resources instead waiting years for buildings to be built and then discover by the time the building opens the population has changed and district lines must be redrawn and neighborhoods disrupted. If the children are warm, dry and safe that's enough for me. Let the learning begin.

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