How Much Does a Portable Classroom Cost?
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How Much Does a Portable Classroom Cost?

Portables cost just an astounding amount of
money. I don’t blame people for being shocked when
they find out the cost, I’m shocked myself. We buy them as double classrooms, double portables
as we refer to them, and they cost half a million dollars, $500,000. The cost of a portable is kind of in two components. We have the actual manufacturing of the portable
itself, the unit. Those run approximately $200,000 for a double
portable. But the cost of siting that building is quite
substantial. So that means bringing in heavy equipment,
leveling the ground, we have to bring rock in, compact it. Preparation of the site and then of course
the different systems that have to go out to the buildings, whether it’s electrical
or technology or the alarm systems, it’s just very, very expensive to install portables now. We may have to add an emergency access road,
add a fire hydrant. You certainly can’t compare building under
the Public Works regulations to the cost of your own home. We have to pay prevailing wages, we have to
follow all the rules that apply to public works, which is considerably different from
the private sector. In the district we have a total of approximately
192 portable classrooms. The Bethel School District at one time was
probably know as “the Queen of Portables” in the entire state. Before we passed the 2001 bond we actually
had more portables than any other school district in the state, with exception of Tacoma and
Seattle, both of which are much larger than we were at that time. It is a lot for a school district. Unfortunately the way funding works we are
forced to do that until we qualify for aid from the state. The Bethel School District has always attempted
to keep the local taxpayers burden as low as possible. I mean, in a perfect world with lots of money,
we would simply build buildings larger and you’d never see portables. We don’t have that. We have a state that will participate in the
cost of construction, but only if you have documented actual need at the time. Students that reside in portables are classified
as “unhoused students.” And so, by having unhoused students, that’s
how we actually qualify for new money to either expand the building or to build new schools. And that’s why we have to have portables,
to demonstrate to the state that, yes, we do need to have their money to reduce the
local taxpayer’s burden. A few years after we build a building, you’ll
probably see a portable go up because we have student growth. Before I was on the school board, I was probably
like most citizens, I was really disconcerted to learn that we might build a new school
and have to put portables there almost immediately. It is unusual to open a brand new school and
have a portable on site that first day, but it does happen. It happened at Spanaway Elementary School. With the population growth, the student growth
in that area, by the time to school opened we actually had more students than could fit
into the building and so we did have to bring a double portable on for that first year. We have a wide variety of portables and portable
conditions throughout the district. Some are really quite old – you know – 20,
30, 40 years old. We’re doing an inventory of the condition
of those buildings to make sure that the older buildings are safe. We’ve had old portables, my kids have been
to schools with old portables with rain coming through the roof, but the new portables really
are not that. The newest ones are really nice classrooms. They’re built to our specifications and they
can have a very warm and welcoming environment for our kids. We put in the same teaching walls and cabinetry
and casework that we do in the building, we put them right out in the portable. We now do actual drywall just like we would
do on the inside of the building so that the students have the same experience in portable
classrooms that they would in the building. All the same technology is there, there really
is no difference and so we want to make those learning environments equal for the students.

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