Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One year later, five portables needed

Parents angry as growing enrollment exceeds expectations at Little Bennett Elementary

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Principal Shawn Miller stands in front of one of the five portable classrooms that will be used this year at Little Bennett Elementary School in Clarksburg.
Some Clarksburg residents are furious that Little Bennett Elementary School will require five portable classrooms this year, just one year after the school opened.

Four of the school’s outdoor basketball hoops were removed to accommodate the portables, which arrived in early July.

More than 740 students are expected at Little Bennett Elementary School in the coming school year.

School enrollment exceeded county projections by 115 students last year. Little Bennett opened with 525 students and enrollment rose throughout the school year, Principal Shawn Miller said. The school had 570 pupils by the end of the year.

Little Bennett opened with kindergarten through fourth grades last year and will add a fifth grade this year.

Miller said he had not anticipated the school would need portables when it opened last fall.

But Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for the county school system, said he projected Little Bennett would need portables in its second year.

‘‘It is not an unexpected situation,” Crispell said. ‘‘We have a lot of growth in Clarksburg and we are just trying to keep pace with the development.”

Little Bennett is projected to have 810 students and reach 110 percent capacity in 2009, according to the county’s 2005 boundary study.

The county plans to open another elementary school in the Clarksburg cluster in August 2009.

The new school will be built in Germantown’s Milestone community and serve students from Germantown, Damascus and Clarksburg.

The boundaries for the school will not be set until spring 2008, but the school is expected to take students from Cedar Grove and Little Bennett elementary schools.

Clarksburg Elementary School will not need portable classrooms this year. It had used portables before Little Bennett was opened.

The portables at Little Bennett are temporary and provide a ‘‘reasonable environment” for the students, Crispell said.

The portables will be used as fourth-grade classrooms.

‘‘Even though we have portable classrooms, we will have enough space for the students,” Miller said. ‘‘It won’t be a concern about putting students in spaces not designated as classrooms.”

That does no allay the concerns of area residents.

The county should have done a better job anticipating the number of students that would attend Little Bennett, said Debby Fletcher, a longtime Clarksburg resident. She is sad to see the portables.

‘‘It takes away from free play for the children,” Fletcher said. ‘‘I have very strong issues about children being in portables for security reasons.”

Miller said he has talked with about 30 parents who are surprised the school will have five portables in only its second year.

‘‘It is unfortunate we can’t house all the kids in the school,” said Chris McDermott, Little Bennett PTA president. ‘‘That is the saddest part of the whole thing.”

Donna Pfeiffer, president of the Rocky Hill Middle School PTA and mother of a Little Bennett fifth-grader, said her son is very disappointed because recess will not be the same with the arrival of the portables.

Pfeiffer said she is also concerned where additional portables will be placed if they are needed. She does not think another portable will fit on the blacktop.

Lunch and recess will be rearranged this year so that only one grade level will have recess at a time because the playground area will be smaller, Miller said. The playground will still have a small blacktop area, climbing equipment and an athletic field behind the school.

‘‘There is still plenty of space for the children to play,” Miller said. ‘‘We still have hoops in the gym when they are not being used for physical education class.”

Miller was pleased that the portables arrived in plenty of time for the start of school and he has briefly inspected them.

‘‘From my point of view, they seem to be in good shape,” Miller said. ‘‘They need thorough cleaning and several coats of wax on the floor.”

Kathie Hulley, president of the Clarksburg Civic Association, was displeased with the appearance of the portables and said students would find them depressing.

She said she cannot understand why the school was not built large enough to accommodate all the students.

‘‘The school system cannot pretend to be world class while it lets their school enrollment projections be out of touch with reality,” Hulley said.