Twenty portable classrooms were removed from the Buddy Taylor middle school campus 14 years ago as the district was making a push to house as many students in its buildings as possible. The construction of the shared cafeteria and classroom building between Buddy Taylor and Wadsworth Elementary, affectionately known as Buddyworth, made the removal of portables possible.
This week, Buddy Taylor took delivery of seven portables, all of which were grounded in some of the same locations as they’d been in the last decade. A contractor’s team this morning was working on digging trenches for the portables’ water and sewer connections, ironically at the same time as a meeting of elected officials from the school board, the county and municipalities was taking place in Bunnell–to discuss the need for new schools and what developers’ responsibilities are in the equation.
The district has been arguing to other governments that its middle schools and high schools are at full capacity. Other governments and homebuilders have been skeptical: the district’s overall enrollment figures continue to be relatively flat for the 14th straight year. But rezoning, and the shift of sixth graders from elementary to middle schools, starting in August, is causing the crunch at Buddy Taylor. Matanzas High School is slated for an expansion to accommodate more incoming students. Elementary schools don’t face the same crunch.
County government was especially resistant to the school district’s request for higher development impact fees–the one time fee builders pay on residential homes to defray the cost of new school construction–forcing the district to scale back its demands, which it did. Now the county, joined by Palm Coast and Bunnell, are resistant to the district’s timetable setting out when and how much developers must pay to offset a lack of capacity in schools, as the district prepares to build a new middle school and a new high school in the middle of the decade. The sides are at an impasse that this morning’s meeting did not break.
Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt, who spent many years as an assistant superintendent in St. Johns County, where school growth has been torrid, is warning local governments that absent a sound financial schedule the district can rely on regarding new developments’ impacts, the district would be forced to plant more portables on several campuses, which the district considers not the ideal way to educate students. Coincidental or not, the timing of this week’s deliveries seemed to make the point visually.
“You need to look at your out years, otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed,” Mittlestadt had said in an interview last September. “And then all of a sudden, the planning will be rushed. And you’ll have to have those portables in place. operations will be stressed and other areas, your core facilities within your buildings will be impacted. You’re going to have to run three and four lunches a day to get your kids through your smaller core facilities when you’re have overcrowding on your campus. So, again, all of these are variables that we we’re considering, we’re trying to be mindful of, not to have happen to Flagler schools.”
They now appear to be happening, if at a modest pace.
Buddy Taylor isn’t the only campus to have portables. Belle Terre Elementary has had 30 of them for years, Matanzas has 44 (that is, two-level portables accommodating 44 classrooms), Old Kings Elementary has three and the Flagler palm Coast High School has about 11 for the Flagler technical College operation and four for the school. Bunnell, Rymfire and Wadsworth Elementary have non, nor does Indian Trails Middle school. But Buddy Taylor is the first school to again face that need after the district had been moving away from it.
“An optimal environment would be a physical classroom, not a portable,” says district spokesman Jason Wheeler. “These are stop-gaps, obviously.” It’s not yet known which students or what classes will be held in the portables, which each have their own bathroom, air conditioning and ground anchors that enable the structure to withstand up to 140 miles per hour winds, says Travis Mellow, project manager for the district’s plant services division.
Aside from denying students the convenience of an actual building, portables are not cheap. The seven used portables the district is leasing for three years cost $105,000, a price that includes delivery and eventual pick-up. The cost of extending the lease isn’t known. “We don’t have that in place right now, we’re hoping to build a school in the meantime,” Mellow said.
The $105,000 does not include many other preparatory costs. Together with the refurbishing of four classrooms on the Buddy Taylor Campus, that sixth grade conversion process, which includes all the prep work in and around the portables, will run to a $400,000 bill in addition to the leasing costs, Mellow said. The portables will be wired by the district’s technology department, an internal cost. (Last January, the school board approved a budget transfer for a total of $595,000 for the BTMS 6th grade transition, portable purchases and other costs.)
Each classroom is 864 square feet.
As recently as Thursday, Patty Bott, speaking before the County Commission as she attempted to explain the district’s position regarding construction funding formula the county is resisting, she was predicting: “We’re going to have portable, portable, portable, portable until we have the funds necessary to build capacity.”
She’d only mentioned the word “portable” four times. She was off by three at Buddy Taylor’s new set-up.