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Fairfax public schools expect to use more trailers

South County Secondary School in Lorton hosts 17 trailers, eight of which are used for instruction, eight for storage and one for administration. Nearly 70 percent of Fairfax County public schools use trailers, and school officials expect that percentage to rise.
South County Secondary School in Lorton hosts 17 trailers, eight of which are used for instruction, eight for storage and one for administration. Nearly 70 percent of Fairfax County public schools use trailers, and school officials expect that percentage to rise. (Fairfax County Times)

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By Holly Hobbs
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trailers are a reality at nearly 70 percent of public schools in Fairfax County. Of about 135 schools with trailers, 14 have trailers numbering in the double digits.

With enrollment at public schools expected to increase by about 1,700 students in the 2010-11 school year, the number of trailers needed to house those students in crowded schools also could go up, Fairfax County public school officials say. And although trailer use is not ideal, limited funding makes trailers the best option for teachers and students, school administrators say.

"Normally to fix capacity issues, you couldn't fix it fast enough," said Wayne F. Pullen, the school system's coordinator for capital projects.

Cost constraints and the time needed to obtain building permits make trailers a necessity, he said, adding that permits for trailers can be obtained in three to four weeks, and school construction permits can take up to a year.

School officials said this week that they are not certain how many trailers the system might need to add in the coming school year. Last summer, the system added 100 temporary classrooms using trailers, which at times are grouped in twos and fours to provide more class space.

Each trailer costs the system about $10,000 annually, he said, adding that trailers can hold 25 to 30 students, depending on the children's ages.

Some of the oldest trailers in the school system are at Herndon Middle School.

"They've been [at Herndon] longer than I have, and that's 26 years," Pullen said.

The system has 713 trailers in its inventory, about 80 percent of which supply additional instructional space. The remaining 20 percent are used for construction at schools, administrative space, storage and child care.

Annandale High School has 17 instructional trailers.

"Our school is overcrowded," said first-year teacher Kellie Burke, who teaches 11th- and 12th-graders in a trailer behind the school. "We have too many teachers, too many students, too many classes."

The trailers are arranged about two rows deep, partially over the school's parking lot and lawn, she said.

"The walls are really thin. When you have the air conditioner on, it's okay, but in the winter, you can hear everything that's going on [in neighboring trailers]," Burke said. "If you have a morning class, in the winter, it takes a little time for the trailers to warm up.

"Some [trailers] have had problems with vermin," she added. "We have kind of weird bug problems."

This year's snow and rain, she said, has added to concerns about the conditions of trailers used at Annandale, including leaky roofs and sending students to the bathroom.

"The weather definitely makes that a challenge," she said of getting to and from classes.

Even so, trailers have their advantages, especially over the alternative, Burke said. Last year, teachers traveled between classrooms, never having a homeroom to call their own.

"The trailers are definitely better than that," Burke said. "The good thing is it's nice and peaceful out there. But if you need to see a colleague, you won't run into them in a hallway."

Some parents are not thrilled about the growing use of trailers in public schools. In 2007, the system reported using 518 trailers, meaning that the use of trailers has grown by 38 percent since then.

"Obviously, you lose time because the children are moving from indoors to outdoors," said Michele Menapace, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, whose children attended Rose Hill Elementary School and Hayfield Secondary School. "In the winter, they've got to get ready to go. Even something as simple as going to the bathroom becomes a group thing."

Even so, for the most part, parents understand the necessity of using trailers, she said.

Using trailers has advantages and disadvantages, said David Brazer, a professor of education administration at George Mason University.

"Student populations fluctuate, so there may come a time in this region when we ask ourselves, 'Why did we build all these schools?' " he said.


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