A lifeline for overcrowded districts, portables become a burden for schools and students.
Problems persist as few rules limit the use of portable classrooms or protect school environments.
Schools districts and architects get creative about how to improve the problem of old portables.
Compare an old portable with frequent problems and a new design following best practices.
Search for Oregon and Washington's largest districts to compare their use of and policies for portables.
Portable, modular or relocatable classrooms -- whatever you call them -- are a necessity for schools. Students don't come in class-size packages of 25 to 30 and budgets are tight. But many portables become permanent fixtures, in place for decades at a time. Costly and insufficient, these aging structures burden the grid, frustrate teachers and administrators and compromise student health. EarthFix examines the extent of the problem, how it happened and what can be done about it.
Portables make up as much as 20 percent of classrooms in some districts. Old portables are particularly problematic, experts say, but many districts have portables older than 20 years with no requirements on when they should be retired or retrofitted.
InvestigateWest sent a survey to the 20 largest school districts in Oregon and Washington about its portable classroom use, policies and perspective. The survey asked each district how many portable classrooms it has and what percent of its total classrooms are portables. The survey also asked how many portable classrooms were newer than five years, how many were older than 20 years, and how many had been retrofitted with new heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, as well as a full inventory of all portable units. All districts responded but with varying levels of detail. Numbers are estimates in some cases.
InvestigateWest and EarthFix surveyed the 20 largest districts in Oregon and Washington. Add yours to our coverage. Click the button to access our survey and send it to your district.
Several efforts are underway to create more efficient portables that offer healthier learning environments, including two prominent efforts in the Northwest. Toggle the images below to see frequent problems with old portables and best practices implemented in newer, "greener" designs.
Art: Nicole Fischer, Sources: Northwest Clean Air Agency, California Air Resources Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SAGE Classroom, SEED Collaborative