Temporary Quarters

Aug. 1, 1997
As enrollments continue to increase and space becomes tight, school districts are turning to relocatables to meet demands.Today, long-term school facility

As enrollments continue to increase and space becomes tight, school districts are turning to relocatables to meet demands.

Today, long-term school facility plans can be thwarted by a number of different situations, including unpredictable growth, special needs and the desire for lower teacher/student ratios. When a district is faced with these situations, the discussions often turn to relocatable space.

Once it is decided that relocatable classrooms are required, it is important to determine how many buildings will be needed. Often, a school district's teacher/student ratio requirements will be an influential factor.

In private schools, a lower ratio usually is the norm. However, for most districts, a guideline of 640 square feet per 20 students is the norm, which is a size accommodated easily through configuring individual, double- or triple-wide relocatable units.

In addition to classrooms, space also may be needed for restrooms, offices and other ancillaries. Therefore, do not limit the potential uses of relocatable space with one-track thinking. By moving classrooms into a relocatable facility, the school may be able to have a dedicated computer lab, science lab and/or art room in the original building. Relocatable space can provide ways to improve a school, not just a means to keep up with changing enrollment requirements.

The perfect location In many cases, there are not a lot of areas to place portable buildings. However, if the situation permits, consider putting relocatable space upfront with a walkway connecting it with the permanent structure. This integrates the space well, and the perception is that the relocatable space is not temporary or inferior. A number of other considerations must be addressed when determining where to put relocatable space:

-Mobility. Relocatable classrooms should be able to be delivered and removed without disturbing existing structures or ruining land. -Utilities. The relocatable space's location should take into account power, water and waste-disposal access. -Codes. Often there are adjacency codes that must be met with regard to fire safety, alarms or the number of doors. -Topography. This is important to facilitate handicapped-accessible ramping and minimize step requirements.

A shining image Relocatable space is flexible. To make it blend in with the permanent facility, consider matching the exterior and the height, if possible. Also consider: -Colors. Relocatable space may be painted or trimmed to match the color of the permanent buildings. -Finishes. The use of exterior compounds such as cement plaster can improve the appearance and the durability. -Exterior lighting. Decorative lanterns or other lighting can help give relocatable space a less institutional feel. -Covered walkways. Walkways can provide a strong visual, physical and emotional link if they are extended to the relocatable. -Landscaping. A few well-placed trees or shrubs can increase the appeal of the structure.

Getting prepared When planning, consider electric and plumbing hookups, as well as installation and inspection fees. Often, a school's facilities department can handle these details; otherwise consider contracting them out. Many relocatable-space manufacturers will handle the entire installation, from obtaining permits to building an entrance ramp.

Of course, price and availability are prime concerns when choosing a relocatable-space provider. Other considerations are experience in constructing classrooms in your state and an in-plant inspection by the state architect's office. Another often overlooked concern is whether the supplier is bondable and approv-able. A priority also may be choosing a provider with the ability to customize the relocatable building. A major part of the appeal of relocatable space stems from the fact that financing is so flexible. Leases for a specific period let a district make affordable monthly payments, and when the space is no longer needed, payments stop. Purchasing also is an option. Some companies even offer a buy-back service to schools, giving a district the ability to recoup some of the money initially spent.

Another convenient alternative is leasing-to-own. With this option, a school can make monthly payments with the goal of ownership.

There are many reasons to consider relocatable space. Mike Carnathan of the Barrow County Public Schools, Ga., and Mike Somers of the Ruxton Country School, Owings Mills, Md., cite the following:

-Demographics. New communities are popping up and shifting overnight, and with them school enrollment can rapidly increase. -Population bubbles. A situation in which there is a specific grade in a school that is more populous than others, often called a bubble. The needs of this group travel with it through the school system. -Construction. Aging schools must continue to provide space for students, even while the schools are being renovated. -Lack of funding. Although a long-term growth plan may be in place, there may be no immediate financing feasible. Students and teachers must be housed affordably until funding for permanent construction becomes available.

Many times, relocatable classrooms can be functional in a matter of days or weeks. They have the flexibility to be modified, added to, reduced or moved to different locations to follow changing enrollment needs.

According to Carnathan, relocatable classrooms should be put upfront for all to see, as a constant reminder of the referendum you are trying to get passed for the new school.

Barrow County, a community that has been growing at an astonishing rate, has 80 relocatable units and uses a combination of buying and leasing. When its new elementary school opens next year, the district will turn in seven of its rental spaces. The following year, when a new middle school opens, another 15 relocatables will no longer be needed. When the high school opens, Barrow will turn in another 25 relocatables.

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