Officials say tax needed for portables

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 9, 2000

MONTEREY, La. — Many of the portable buildings used by Concordia Parish public schools are 30 years old, and with decaying doors and water-damaged ceilings and floors they are showing their age despite constant maintenance.

&uot;I used this one when I&160;was a guidance counselor, which was in the early 1970s,&uot; said Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot;&160;Peterman, opening one of several portables at Monterey High School. &uot;It’s not that these buildings aren’t cared for. They’re just old.&uot;

The district plans to replace the older structures by leasing nine newer portables for the upcoming school year at $400 each per month. But even newer portables pose operation and safety problems – so the district wants to get rid of the temporary buildings altogether. That is why getting a 13-mill tax passed this fall in order to build more than $1 million worth of classrooms, or 18 in all, is so crucial, parish school officials said.

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If more than half of those voting cast their ballots Oct. 7 for the tax, which would generate about $510,000 a year, proceeds would be used to repay bonds issued to pay for construction. Plans for the project could start immediately after passage of the tax and building could start in the spring.

Tax proceeds would be used to build eight new classrooms at Monterey High School, six at Vidalia Upper Elementary and four at Ferriday Lower Elementary to replace portable buildings. And that cannot be a moment too soon as far as H.L. Irvin, director of support services, is concerned.

For one thing, it is more expensive to heat and cool portables, which are not as well-insulated as permanent buildings. It also costs more to install smoke alarms and other needed fixtures in free-standing structures than in permanent buildings, Irvin said.

Safety is also a concern because, like manufactured homes, portables are less safe during storms than brick buildings, he added.

And due to a lack of covered walkways, students — &uot;sometimes 20 students per portable, sometimes more,&uot; said Peterman — and their teachers often have to dart through the rain to get from their portables to the main buildings.

Replacing portables &uot;is a matter of safety … and improving the learning environment,&uot;&160;Irvin said.

At the same time, the district has not had the funds to replace them. School districts do not get state capital outlay money for construction, and any leftover local money usually goes to improve salaries or teacher-students ratios, Peterman said.

And lately, the district’s financial situation has only gotten tighter. During the 1999-2000 school year, the district lost $717,000 a year in taxes from bankrupt Fruit of the Loom. It also lost 26 students from the year before, so it lost $558,000 in state funds for the year.

&uot;If this tax doesn’t pass, we would have to set up a fund to replace these portables as we had the money,&uot;&160;Peterman said. &uot;But that could take years.&uot;