School system brainstorms ways to create more classrooms

Early childhood programs cause space shortages

October 18, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school system is exploring options to avoid installing more than 100 portable classrooms to house all the children who will attend county schools by 2007 because of all-day kindergarten and other early childhood programs.

To meet state mandates, the school system planned to add 35 portable classrooms this year at 18 schools. But school officials now estimate they will need 74 additional classrooms at 26 schools over the next two years. Four schools are expected to have enough space without additions or other rooms.

Kindergartners would not be housed in the portable classrooms. Either older grades or cultural arts classes such as music or art would move from in the school.

Each portable classroom costs about $100,000, which would bring the total close to $11 million, according to estimates in the capital budget.

At a recent meeting, school board members expressed shock at the number of temporary spaces that would be necessary to accommodate students.

"This is going to look like shantytown," said board member Eugene Peterson.

Others asked whether the system could pursue more permanent solutions rather than portable classrooms, which must be replaced eventually.

"Would [the district] be better served to begin to build additions on those schools, so that by 2008 or 2010 we're finished?" said board president Edward P. Carey.

Anne Arundel's 77 elementary schools have all-day kindergarten. Officials gave priority to schools with higher numbers of children receiving free or reduced-priced lunches, a poverty indicator.

The school system expects to add about 1,000 kindergartners as the program is phased in by the 2007 deadline set by the state, school planning officials said.

In previous years, two half-day classes shared a kindergarten classroom. That arrangement will not work with a full-day kindergarten program.

Early facilities reports indicated that fully implementing the program with permanent additions and other changes would cost $73 million. A phase-in with portable classrooms would cost less in the short term.

The committee formed to discuss the implementation of all-day kindergarten considered different combinations of options such as redistricting, realignments of grades, permanent additions or regional early childhood centers, said Chuck Yocum, supervisor of student demographic planning and committee chairman.

Staff members said, however, that portable classrooms are only the first phase of implementation.

Of $35 million dedicated to all-day kindergarten, $20 million has been budgeted for a second phase of design and construction of more permanent solutions, such as additions at the schools, said Gregory V. Nourse, assistant superintendent for business and management services.

Several board members questioned the logic behind purchasing portable classrooms that would have to be replaced more quickly than permanent additions or modular classroom units, which have a longer life.

But Yocum said the committee chose this option given limited funding and the tight timetable before the state's 2007 deadline.

"There's too many schools and not enough funds," he said.

School superintendent Eric J. Smith said at last week's meeting that his staff could present other scenarios to the board. He also said at the meeting that modular additions often cost almost as much as permanent additions.

"What you really got was speed," he said.

Board member Tricia Johnson asked whether new buildings such as Davidsonville Elementary School, which was designed to accommodate two more kindergarten rooms, would also get portable classrooms. She also wondered whether there was room for all the portable classrooms at the schools.

"I don't know where you're going to put all those," Johnson said.

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