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Unwanted portable classrooms sold to area groups

MANATEE — Carpet, roofs and air-conditioners can be replaced only so many times in portable classrooms.

When the movable buildings reach about age 20, their life cycle is about up.

So Manatee County schools officials are selling their depreciated units to churches and community groups for $1 each.

Part of the deal: The buyer has to fork over the moving costs — about $4,000.

The transactions, school officials say, save the district money.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep putting money into a portable that is considered past its service or usable life,” said Todd Henson, the district’s director of maintenance. “So we evaluated our inventory, looked at their age and at the condition of what needs to be done. Typically those age 20 years and over are costly to maintain. We’ve already replaced the carpet or reroofed it. You just can’t keep putting money into it because once your facility has depreciated you just have to draw the line where the value to the district is zero.”

As of last week, the district owned 297 portables, most of them used as classrooms at schools including Bashaw Elementary and Braden River High. About 50 units are used for storage and office space, Henson said.

The district has sold 14 units during the past six months. Other requests are pending and under consideration.

Many inquirers, when they realize they have to pay the moving costs, decide against it, Henson said.

Money made from the transactions goes toward the general operating budget, said Jim Drake, the district’s assistant superintendent of finances.

Those buildings that are deemed unsatisfactory by a licensed architect are razed. So far this year, the district has demolished five portable buildings. It costs $3,000 to tear one down. Add $1,800 to that if the unit has asbestos in it. The cost is higher, Henson said, due to air sampling required during the demolition process.

One unit, a white portable with peeled siding and boarded windows, sits behind Rowlett Magnet Elementary School on Ninth Street East. It is slated to be torn down within the next month.

Portables sold or razed will not be replaced.

“Four or five years ago, we didn’t have enough space for our students and now we are in good shape because our student population has somewhat stabilized with minimal growth,” said Supt. Tim McGonegal.

At schools such as Palm View Elementary, students are moving out of portables into the main school building because construction there is complete.

“We are in better shape with our facilities than we have ever been before,” McGonegal said.

Community and nonprofit groups that have purchased portables are using them for educational purposes or extra space because of membership growth.

Manatee Palms Youth Services recently bought five from the district, Henson said. St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church in Palmetto purchased one, too. Restoration Fellowship Church, on Richardson Road in Sarasota, bought four.

Pastor Kenton Slabaugh said the church expects to have them up and running in the next few weeks.

Right now they will be used for a prayer center, offices and a classroom.

“We are full right now (membership is about 400 people) and considering building a new building, so we are using them as a bridge to a more permanent facility,” Slabaugh said.

Slabaugh said purchasing the portables was a deal in the long run. “It’s saving money over a permanent facility,” he said.

But he noted that there’s still ”quite a bit of cost associated with the moving and site work.”