Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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School District mulls options to reduce number of portables

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Paul Takahashi

Ronzone Elementary School teacher Billie Ann Watanabe teaches a lesson in a portable classroom, one of 20 on the central Las Vegas Valley campus. Across the Clark County School District, there are more than 1,200 portable classrooms serving about a fifth of all elementary school children.

Portable Classrooms

Ronzone Elementary School, located in the central Las Vegas Valley, has 20 portable classrooms, the most in the Clark County School District. Across the Clark County School District, there are more than 1,200 portable classrooms serving about a fifth of all elementary school children. Launch slideshow »

The Clark County School District has 1,872 portable classrooms, the equivalent of 40 permanent elementary schools.

Some campuses are brimming with portables. Long Elementary School, in the eastern valley, has 21 portable classrooms. Some high schools have 40 portable classrooms.

With so many portables, district officials are now wondering how many portables is too many?

As enrollment continues to grow, the School District has increasingly relied on portable classrooms, cafeterias and even restrooms. Clark County, the nation’s fifth-largest school system, has more than 315,000 students.

In 1998, when voters last approved a bond program to build new schools, the School District had 771 portables. Fifteen years later, that number has nearly tripled to 2,233 portable classrooms, lunchrooms and bathrooms — and it’s still growing.

This year, the School District began purchasing 100 new portables to accommodate a projected 3,300 additional students next year. Each portable costs $130,000 to install and $40,000 to move, which is cheaper than the $25 million it takes to build a new elementary school

Today, an estimated 1 in 5 elementary school students in Las Vegas attend class every day in a portable.

These classrooms, which are housed in either a single or double-wide trailer, were designed to be temporary facilities — used, for example, when the main school building was undergoing renovations.

However, these portable classrooms are anything but temporary.

The average portable classroom in Las Vegas is 15 years old — five years shy of their expected lifespan. Clark County’s oldest portables are more than 50 years old, and there are 43 of them.

Officials acknowledged Thursday night that portables have helped the School District handle its incredible enrollment growth.

“Portables provide a quick and easy response to growth,” Jim McIntosh, the district’ chief financial officer, said. “They’re handy.”

Officials said they believe there is no adverse effect for students who are taught in a windowless trailer. Those working and learning in them have mixed opinions.

Some teachers say they prefer the portables, because they are independent from the main campus and have their own adjustable heating and cooling system. Others, however, complain about their stale smell, thin walls and how removed they are from the main campus, including bathrooms.

As a result, the School District is looking for ways to gradually phase them out. They are considering districtwide rezoning, converting more schools to year-round calendars and building new additions, which cost between $3 million and $5 million.

Officials say without a new capital program, building new schools is out of the question.

“We have a limited amount of funds,” McIntosh said. “New schools aren’t really an option.

Eliminating portables will take a combination of rezoning, alternative school calendars and school building additions, officials said. However, that may still not be enough to stem the flow of new students.

“We’ve come to the realization that even if you were to build enough schools, you will never eliminate portables,” McIntosh told School Board members.

Members urged the School District to look at all options to address school campus crowding, including district-wide rezoning — last done during the 1994-95 school year.

“I know this is painful,” School Board member Deanna Wright said. “But it’s time to think outside of the box. Our community needs to know how dire this situation is. I know it’s not easy, but we need to get out of our comfort zone to solve this problem.”

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