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McHenry County school districts work to eliminate use of mobile classrooms

MARENGO – Currently, some Riley Community Consolidated School District 18 students have to walk about 15 to 20 feet outside the main school for band lessons in a portable classroom.

However, the school board last month began discussions about whether it might be time to replace two of the district’s mobile units with a permanent building, Superintendent Jim Davis said. The board is expected to continue that discussion Wednesday, and hear from an architect firm to get a better idea of how much the project could cost.

“In a mobile classroom, there’s kind of a hollow feeling,” he said, adding the units were brought into the district about 20 years ago. “It’s always a worry about how long they can last. Should you be spending money for repairs or should you just replace them?”

Talk of constructing a building to replace those classrooms comes a few years after the district built the current 7,200-square-foot junior high building to replace other portable units, a project that was budgeted for about $800,000.

Discussions around the potential project still are preliminary, Davis said, adding that money has been put away for such a proposal over the last couple years.

District 18 is among a number of McHenry County school districts that operate mobile classroom space. Officials from some of those districts have described the portable spaces as generally temporary; expensive to heat, cool and maintain; and less comfortable and stable in inclement weather.

To the east, Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46 maintains one portable classroom as a general music space for junior high students, Superintendent Phil Bender said.

Obtained around 2008 when enrollment was at an all-time high, all three of the district’s portable units initially were for classroom use. The two no longer occupied by students are used for storage and other such purposes.

“Anytime a district brings in portables, the intent is for them to be temporary,” Bender said. “We still have one and I still view it as temporary, and that should be one of our primary goals – to get those kids in the school.”

However, he added that there have been no definitive decisions on that front at this point.
It’s a goal on which McHenry School District 15 is making progress with an ongoing, large-scale construction project aiming to eliminate mobile classrooms by expanding existing schools.

District 15 has had mobile classrooms for about 20 years, Chief Financial Officer Mark Bertolozzi said, adding that at one point there were 21 portable units.

With ongoing construction, there will only be six left starting next school year, Bertolozzi said.

The year-to-date cost is about $9 million, he added. The total cost will depend on the bidding process for the remaining construction.

“There are maintenance issues, and just the functionality of them [mobile classrooms],” Bertolozzi said. “It’s better to have people in a building.”

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