CUSD gains free portable classroom, long-term questions remain

Claremont Unified School District is in the midst of a symbiotic exchange with a nearby school district.

At the Thursday, August 1 school board meeting, it was announced that the district is taking advantage of Baldwin Park Unified School District’s offer of a free portable building. The portable, which is worth $250,000, just needs to be picked up from its current site before the Monday,  August 12 start of Baldwin Park’s school year.

Normally, CUSD would have to contact and vet some 20 contractors before deciding on a company to transport and install the portable, a process that would take about a month. Because of time constraints, the school board approved an emergency procedure allowing the district to use a contractor recommended by the Baldwin Park district.

The portable, which is a double-sized modular building, will be installed at Condit Elementary School and used to house a classroom plus a speech therapy headquarters or similar therapeutic facility.

Like each of the school board members present, board member Sam Mowbray approved the measure allowing for the quick transportation and installation of the new portable. He did, however, take a moment to cite his concerns with the ongoing use of portables in the district, most of which have no running water.

“Right now, when we need to expand space, we have no choice except to add a portable,” Mr. Mowbray explained in a subsequent interview. “But I hope administration will remember that we need to develop a plan that would include a longer-term perspective for the district.”

A review of the facilities plan, which was last updated 3 or 4 years ago, would allow the district to assess what work needs to be done to improve the many portable classrooms. It would also allow the district to decide what permanent buildings should be constructed in the future to house the CUSD population that Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Mike Bateman projects will include 6,950 students this year.

Mr. Mowbray served on the Claremont school board from 1993 until 2005 and returned to the board in 2011. He says he ran for a school board seat the second time because he felt he could lend the board a useful historic perspective.

Mr. Mowbray noted that CUSD had a list of needed improvements it planned to address via revenue from Measure Y, a $48.9 million school facilities bond that passed in 2000. One such project was the installation of water in all of the portables being used as classrooms, a project that involves the installation of drainage and sewage systems.

It is a worthwhile aim, according to Mr. Mowbray, who feels that “classrooms should at least have a sink and running water so the kids can wash their hands after activities.”

Unfortunately, the district, which had been “getting very competitive and low bids,” encountered a precipitous rise in the cost of labor and materials soon after the measure’s passage. As a result, CUSD began to run out of money quickly, Mr. Mowbray noted.

“We had to make certain choices on how to spend what money we had left,” he said. “In most cases, it was spent on safety and energy efficiency issues.”

In 2010, the board championed Measure CL, a new $94.9 million facilities bond that included among its goals a number of unfinished projects left over from the Measure Y bond. Coming so soon after the economic downturn and amid mistrust over how quickly Measure Y money ran out, the public voted the measure down.

There has been some speculation in another year or so, it may be time to introduce another facilities bond. If the board plans to make such a move, they will need to have an accurate reckoning of what Claremont schools really need, Mr. Mowbray said. He feels the district’s many portables should be an area of focus.

“We’re not unique,” he noted. “Most districts…have had this problem where, as the population of California increases and class sizes decrease, there is a need for room that is satisfied by using portables. It’s the correct thing to do, but many people would like to see us incorporate a plan to minimize their use.”

The next school board meeting is set for Thursday, August 15 at 6:30 p.m. It will be held at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center, located at 170 W. San Jose Avenue in Claremont.

—Sarah Torribio


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