Portables a problem, resident says

Clovis residents have expressed concerns about the safety of portable classrooms. The school district currently uses 50 portable units, according to school officials. (Courtesy Photo)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis grandparent is agitated because her grandsons were housed in a portable classroom at a Clovis school that failed to met fire code regulations.

Cheryl Elliott’s twin grandsons are part of an Arts Academy at Bella Vista class of 24 that was housed in a portable too small for a class of that size, according to Clovis Fire Marshal Capt. Allan Silvers.

International fire code dictates 20 net square feet be allotted for each occupant in an educational K-12 structure, Silvers said.

Once Clovis educators were notified of the code infraction, they responded promptly, Silvers said.

The students have since been moved to a larger portable.

School officials said housing the students in a larger portable was always the intention, but the larger one was in use at Yucca Junior High School during roof repairs and the transfer was delayed.

The smaller portable is now being used for physical therapy at the arts academy and houses no more than four or five students at a time, according to Clovis Schools Director of Operations Gene Bieker.

Regardless, Elliott’s anger over the situation lingers.

“I think it’s cruelty to pack 24 students into a classroom that is only 22 by 24,” said Elliott, who confronted school board members and administrators about the conditions during a school board meeting in mid-November.

“It should never have happened,” Elliott said.

Bella Vista Elementary School and Lincoln-Jackson Elementary School merged this year to create the Arts Academy at Bella Vista. With the increase in students, portables are necessary at the campus, school officials said.

The same is true at schools across Clovis and the nation, they said.

Portables, said Clovis Schools Director of Community Relations David Briseno, are “just a way of life in schools.”

In Clovis Schools, 50 portables are in use, Bieker said. The oldest was purchased 32 years ago, he said.

In Albuquerque public schools, approximately 1,500 portables are in use, according to Briseno.

Shifting populations at schools simply require them, although educators prefer to house students in permanent structures, Briseno said.

Clovis Schools petitioned for state funds in 2006 to add 12 classrooms to three elementary schools: the arts academy, La Casita and Lockwood. Their request was denied because of a lack of funds, but officials plan to reapply in 2007, according to Bieker.

In the meantime, at those schools and elsewhere, portables are an inexpensive alternative to permanent structures and can easily be moved from school to school, Bieker said.

The same safety codes that apply inside schools apply in portables, officials said.
“I would personally consider a portable building at least as safe as the other structures (students) have access to,” Silvers said.

But even portable classrooms that are up to code bother Elliott and others.
“I really don’t think portables are a good thing,” Elliott said. “Number one, they are not secure.”

“These students have no bathroom facilities and … it’s not just a hop, skip and jump (to bathrooms inside),” Elliott continued.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also scrutinizes the portable trend.
“(Portables) are intended to provide flexibility to school districts, enabling quick response to demographic changes and providing the ability to be moved from one school to another as demographics change. In reality, portable classrooms are seldom moved and become permanent fixtures of the school,” reads an EPA document posted on its Web site.

“Care should be taken,” the document reads, “during specification and selection (of portables) to ensure that the students’ health is not compromised for inexpensive, low quality designs.”