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Deadline on portables extended

The Legislature gives school districts another year to either bring their portable classrooms up to code or eliminate them.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY and KELLY RYAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001


The Legislature gives school districts another year to either bring their portable classrooms up to code or eliminate them.

An impending deadline for school districts to spend millions to upgrade or eliminate portable classrooms has been postponed for a year -- a reprieve granted on the last day of the legislative session.

That gives school districts until July 1, 2002 to spend money to fix up portables or get rid of them altogether.

Educators, who have been struggling to meet the deadline this summer, were relieved, though some said the task still is daunting and expensive, even with a year's grace period.

"That makes a big difference for us," said Jim Hamilton, deputy superintendent for the Hillsborough County schools. The district has several construction projects in the works, and the extra time allows Hillsborough to finish building some permanent classrooms to replace portables.

"I would hate to have to retrofit portables, and then turn around and eliminate them later" when the permanent classrooms are ready, Hamilton said.

Hillsborough County budgeted $4.7-million for the project. The district has about 1,600 and expects to be down to 650 or so by the state's deadline.

Pasco County has about 370 portables being used for classrooms.

The high-growth district doesn't expect to reduce that number any time soon, so the portables are being upgraded to conform to the new state codes. The cost has been estimated near $2-million.

"I think we're in good shape," said Wendell Krinn, maintenance director for the Pasco schools. "We were going to run it right down to the last minute, but it looks like we'll have more time."

Convenient as they are, portable classrooms have become an embarrassing symbol of the state's inability to keep up with growth. Legislators, frustrated at the sight of rows and rows of portables surrounding crowded schools, attempted to get rid of as many as possible during a 1997 special session devoted to school construction.

Lawmakers voted for $2.7-billion in construction money and set a goal of eliminating all portables more than 20 years old by the year 2003 and of eliminating half the portables at crowded schools.

Those goals are still to be met, though Tampa Bay area districts said they would be able to remove the older portables.

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