APS Students Returning to More Relocatable Classrooms

by ARLnow.com September 3, 2010 at 9:36 am 3,724 9 Comments

Arlington Public Schools will be opening next week with at least 600 more students than a year ago and 14 new relocatable classrooms to accommodate the burgeoning student body.

Relocatable classrooms —  superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy prefers the term “learning cottages” — are here to stay in Arlington County. The school system, having determined that the portable units are ten times more cost-effective than physically building a new classroom, has started buying rather than leasing the “relocatables,” and has started buying them four at a time for a further cost savings.

This summer APS added four relocatables each to Glebe, Carlin Springs, and Barrett elementary schools. One relocatable was installed at Nottingham Elementary and H-B Woodlawn, according to APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia.

The school system also likes relocatables because of the flexibility they provide. They can be moved from school to school, can be put into reserve in case of a sudden influx of students, and can be removed if the student population enters a cyclical downturn, as it did in the 1990s.

Indeed, although student enrollment is projected to increase through 2020 (see chart below), school board member Sally Baird says the increase is as much a “generational spike” in certain areas of the county as it is a result of Arlington’s steadily growing population. That growth, she says, is only temporary.

“There will be, at some point, a plateau,” Baird said.

In addition to the “relocatables” — APS is also implementing a number of strategies specifically intended to allow then to squeeze in more students without laying a single brick.

Class sizes have increased by one student across the board, with the exception of the fourth and fifth grade classes. At high schools, classrooms are being utilized six out of seven periods, up from five. And Washington-Lee High School is offering “zero period” classes before the start of school, a strategy that may spread to other high schools.

One thing that the school system is no longer considering is redrawing school boundaries. Although the idea was under consideration, it was panned by parents when polled for an APS survey.

“One of the top messages and feedback [from the survey] was: don’t change the boundaries,” Dr. Murphy said during a community chat last month. The survey suggested that parents considered relocatable classrooms the lesser of two evils when the other option is changing schools.

The redrawing of boundaries was also considered by consultants the school system hired to study crowding problems earlier this year. Their conclusion: since all schools are at or near capacity, redrawing boundaries would be of little benefit.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised with an updated number of relocatable classrooms, as provided by APS. Other figures cited in this article are sourced from Dr. Murphy’s community chat and Power Point slides from prior school board meetings.

  • Clarendude

    “Learning Cottages” ! Pretty funny. It’s like at Dulles, calling those big, hulking people-movers “Mobile Lounges”. Maybe Arlington could buy those up now that Dulles will have the trains, retrofit them as classrooms and call them Mobile Learning Lounges.

  • Skeptical

    “Relocatable classrooms?” “Learning cottages?” You know damn well the kids call them trailers, and probably most of the teachers and staff do too.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much effort goes into talking nicey-nicey about something that is a regrettable necessity.

  • S. Arl. resident

    I understood that Wakefield was undercapacity for this new school year. I find it odd that W & L (the $100+ M school) was so poorly planned that they have to add trailers and change the school schedule to accomodate every one that wants to be in the IB program. What is wrong with changing school boundaries due to demographics? Or, offer the IB at other high schools?

  • charlie

    what is the cost of these things? How are they budgeted? Why do we have empty classroom and others are overflowing? WHo is charge?

  • New School Parent

    Do you have any information about which classes will be in the “Relocatable Classrooms” at Glebe? My daughter starts there soon and I would like to know if she is going to be in a trailer.

    • I don’t, unfortunately. Anybody else?

      • Grover

        Only the third-graders will be in trailers at Glebe this year.

  • former student

    While I can’t say for sure in the past the trailers were used for specials (Music, Spanish, Art etc) and they kept the classrooms for the kids regular use.

  • Hikin’ the pike

    There is a real benefit to being in a trailer–each has its own heat/ac, so it is immune to main building issues. However, while a trailer may be cheaper up front, they use way more electricity because they aren’t very well insulated.


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