Portable Classroom Lease vs. Purchase Analysis

Single-wide Portable Classroom Calculations
The approximate cost of leasing a single-wide portable classroom ($31,300) would exceed the cost to purchase ($31,251) the same unit in 8.3 years (or 100 months).
Calculations & Assumptions (based on 2017 pricing):

  1. The cost to purchase a new single-wide portable classroom is $31,251.
  2. Annual cost to lease a new single-wide portable classroom is $3,240 (or $270 per month).
  3. The one-time cost to return a leased single-wide portable classroom is approximately $4,300. (This includes a return fee [$300 per unit] plus an average cost to repair unit when returned.)

Quad Classroom Unit (with Restrooms) Calculations
The cost of leasing a quad classroom unit ($208,145) would exceed the cost of purchase ($204,830) the same unit in 4.5 years (or 54 months).
Calculations & Assumptions (based on 2017 pricing):

  1. Cost to purchase a new quad classroom unit with restrooms is $204,830
  2. Annual cost to lease a new quad classroom unit with restrooms is $44,160 ($3,680 per month)
  3. One-time cost to return a leased quad portable with restrooms is approximately $9,425 (This includes a return fee [$825 per unit] plus an average cost to repair unit when returned.)

Estimated Savings Calculations
200 single-wide portable classrooms leased for 15 years (including return fees) will cost the District $10,592,000 (or $52,960 per unit).
200 single-wide portable classrooms purchased (based on 2017 pricing) will cost the District $6,250,200 (or $31,251 per unit).
Portable Classrooms in DeKalb Schools
The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) will need to obtain additional portable classrooms to address the following over the next several years:

  • 267 out of 413 will are over or are approaching their recommended service life –
    between 15 and 20 years.
  • Projected increase in student enrollment
  • Portable classrooms will be used as swing space for displaced classrooms at schools under partial construction.

Over the past three years, the Board of Education has approved the purchase of 146 portable classrooms in support of the concerns mentioned above. The Return on Investment (ROI) for purchasing these portable classrooms versus leasing them is approximately eight to nine years for single-wide portable classrooms and four to five years for a “quad classroom” (four instructional units). In other words, the cost of leasing these units will exceed the cost of purchasing the same unit over the recommended service life of 15 to 20 years.
After this summer’s portable classroom deployments and replacements, the District will have approximately 413 portable classrooms in use, of which 146 are new, and 267 are old.

At a minimum, based on current enrollment projections DeKalb Schools will need approximately 200 new portable classrooms once all planned E-SPLOST IV and V capacity additions are complete in 2023. If additional capacity is constructed beyond 2023 (E-SPLOST VI and beyond), the number of portable classrooms needed will decrease over time.

29 responses to “Portable Classroom Lease vs. Purchase Analysis

  1. Dekalbmomof3

    However, this is not taking into account the quality of the units or the costs for mold remediation when these portable units leak or do not have climate control over the hot, humid summer months. The materials used for these portable classrooms, typically formaldehyde-laden pressed wood, are notorious for allowing black mold growth, and the additional costs of equipping these classrooms (installing an additional vapor barrier, outdoor air kit, special-use exhaust ventilation systems for chemistry classes, etc) does not appear to have been factored in here. More details can be found here:

  2. As the population grows, Dunwoody High School can look forward to more and more trailers (and black mold according to DekalbMomOf3) over the next 5 years. Don’t feel left out Chamblee Charter High School. CCHS is getting trailers this Summer.
    DHS trailers rile Nancy Jester
    In case you didn’t know, Nancy has been engaging the City of Dunwoody trying to get them to enforce various laws, codes and ordinances for quite some time. Dick Williams, with the Dunwoody Crier, talked to some city councilman and Nancy Jester about the city’s responsibility regarding these trailers …

    By Dick Williams For The Crier

    An angry DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester has emailed Dunwoody and its city council urging the city to enforce its ordinances and codes for building activity by the DeKalb County school system.
    Spurred by complaints over the school system’s unannounced and un-permitted move of classroom trailers to the Dunwoody High School campus, Jester is asking the city for a timetable `for enforcement, permitting and inspections.” The DeKalb system envisions using the trailers in August when the next school year begins with a large ninth-grade class.
    Continue reading >>
  3. See, this is yet another topic that has been revisited over and over and over. It’s why I gave up the blog. It’s all been discussed before. Please just read our 2013 post on the subject where the decision was made by the Board to buy out leases and purchase all trailers going forward. >>
    “One of the first actions of the newly constituted, Governor-appointed board (except for three) was to approve the decision to forgo leasing trailers/modulars/learning cottages and use only trailers owned or being purchased by the school system. Although the newest published list of vendor spends (July, 2013 edition) shows that Williams Scotsman, the company we leased trailers from was paid $796,301.74, we anticipate that they will no longer be paid by DeKalb schools.”

  4. Here’s another interesting post about an award-winning pod (portable classroom) design that was never implemented >>
    Sunday, June 6, 2010
    What happened to the “PeaPoD”?
    “The PeaPoD portable classroom implements cost-conscious building materials to create a learning environment which can be adapted to any environment. With generous daylighting, operable windows, and natural ventilation, the PeaPoD can operate with significantly lower utility costs while at the same time providing a wonderful and refreshing educational experience to the students and teachers. ” …

  5. The single wide trailers at PCMS are in deplorable condition. I don’t know how old they are (guessing 30 years), but they leak, have mold, windows that don’t fully close, and have floors that are caving through. It is a disgrace that our children and teachers are forced to spend their school days in there. In addition, the single wide trailers are not conducive to learning because there are way TOO MANY kids in those classes and the skinny, long trailers are chalk full of desks.
    Stan- you should go tour the single-wides at PCMS to get a first-hand glimpse. It is appalling.

  6. And one more — this is a comment from the above referenced post, “What’s up with the trailers?”. NOTE the date!
    dekalbschoolwatch says:
    September 12, 2013 at 2:29 PM
    “Here are a few ideas though — many of you won’t like it!
    Drop the Chamblee magnet program. Make it an area attendance high school only. Send all Cross Keys students to Chamblee and make Cross Keys a large middle school (works for this as it has no auditorium!) Make Sequoyah a very large elementary school – it could house the new 900 seat plan – or even more! Quit with the specialty, magnet, theme, science, extra $$$ on charters (beyond our legal responsibility). Merge the DSA program in with an under-enrolled high school. Take the Kittredge and Wadsworth models and make that happen in EVERY school – offer ‘gifted’ programs in schools that mean something. Offer special education support that means something so that people don’t have or want to seek private schools or charters. CUT Pre-K (they don’t generate FTE earnings and cost us more than we take in – including the seats they use up in schools – turn the lottery-funded program over to private operators or convert empty, unused schools into pre-K academies) CUT all unnecessary transportation – if this requires making ARABIA have an attendance zone, then do it – it’s what was originally promised anyway!
    These are not that tough. Rip off the band-aid and start the healing! But some group will fight every action to do so in every neighborhood. They intimidate the staff and nothing gets done. These high-level staff people are complacent and fat (in the wallet). Ramona Tyson presided over the biggest drop in learning in the history of DeKalb schools – and she was never called out for it – in fact, she earned $300,000 last year! These ‘leaders’ have no motivation to do the right thing to properly educate ALL students in DeKalb — even if it means diluting something ‘extra’ someone else is now getting.”

  7. @Jay >> Please check out that PeaPod idea I linked in the comment above yours. These were designed for Druid Hills High School and won a very prestigious design award. Then, they were never built.

  8. Folks, we have had decades of poor and corrupt leadership in DeKalb schools. Going back to Dr. Lewis, we see now in hindsight that he was a player. He gave out contracts to those in his inner circle. He gave his lover a top tier job with a lot of power. He placed Pat Pope as head of construction – pretending to have found her via executive search, but having already been paying her as a consultant (according to her testimony here >> http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/03/some-testimony-for-your-reading.html ). They duped the system of millions and did a very poor job with SPLOST spending. DSW always advocated for an independent accounting firm to manage all SPLOST dollars and for all SPLOST-related employees to be hired as consultants – not as system employees – leaving the ability to cut the cord when their job is finished. (No commitments to $$$ pensions in perpetuity.) Then we had Ramona Tyson for far too long. Under her watch, construction was a disaster and student performance was worse. Enter Cheryl Atkinson – something horribly strange happened there. The woman eventually went AWOL and rather than pressing charges, the system paid her a severance to leave. Then behind closed doors, with NO input from stakeholders, the Board hired Michael Thurmond – just before most of them were fired by the Governor. The Gov replaced a majority of those Board members (except Orson and McMahan, who had both just been elected). This group kept Thurmond at the helm and attempted to right the ship. A new election replaced most of them and that Board went on a real search for a new super. Stephen Green was found and hired – and we need to leave him in place long enough to get some of these things done. I’m told he does his research. I’m told he is not political or beholden to local insiders. I pray that’s true. There is still much to do – but this Board needs to take these tasks seriously and along with Dr. Green, start knocking some things off the list. Take a bus tour of some of the other schools around metro Atlanta and the state. Despite spending over $2 billion in SPLOST construction dollars over the past 4+ SPLOSTs, DeKalb schools are still in shambles in a lot of places around the county. We don’t need to band-aid our current buildings yet again. We need more schools – especially in the north end of the county. Keep going …. turn a deaf ear to the squeaky wheels and make decisions based on what you know to be best for the entire system going forward.

  9. But then again, I am such a cynic and rarely believe that those in power care much what we the people actually think. And it seems, Princeton did a study that proves my thinking to be true >> https://youtu.be/5tu32CCA_Igt

  10. Cere,
    I respect you so much and all your hard work. Seeing the number of mobile units and the money spent is a concern. The condition of them is even a greater concern for the students and staff that have to be in them. It feels like the staff in the schools are getting left behind and the district is again using money to support county level leadership jobs. It is hard to have faith in process that does not seem to benefit the people actually working in the schools.
    Also, people who are leading us need to have the training and the skills to do this. To stop us from losing so many good people. The system has to be truthful.
    Fuzzy Math
    1. http://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/fuzzy-math-dekalb-schools-chief-says-district-has-teacher-vacancies-then-backpedals/F8PFDJTbdjyyeJuwfDFlUO/
    A quote from the article. “That is correct that we have more than two vacancies,” Patrick countered. “The report reflects what’s posted on the web. What I’m hearing is we want to know actual vacancies in the classroom. I’ll figure out a way so that you know what’s posted on the web. In addition to that, there will be a way that it’s clear on the report that it shows what’s on the web and what’s vacant in the classroom.”
    How could we not know the number of job openings in the schools. This makes no sense.
    2. Custodian, Cafeteria Workers & Bus Drives are asking for raises.
    According to a man who spoke at the BOE
    HR Chief Returns changes jobs but keeps pay.
    3. http://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/dekalb-schools-former-chief-missing-from-work-for-months-quietly-returns-demoted-position/ideAfRErHLYYWfLxFftJrJ/
    “But the district has said little about why an employee reassigned to another department is allowed to keep a salary ($175,000) nearly three times the maximum amount it designates for the position he was demoted to. “

  11. Ha! How does that help Dunwoody’s overcrowding Cere? What are the numbers for CCHS Magnet, number of resident kids in Magnet and the number of CK kids you want to move over? Why not a Doraville high schoool?

  12. Do those in power care what people think? – That’s a good philosophical question. Should people be allowed to make decisions that others would say are wrong? That is generally the argument against a number of things including charter schools and vouchers … that parents shouldn’t be allowed to have choices, some will choose poorly.
    DeKalb administrators and board members care to some extent what people think. However, administrators and board members believe they are the professionals and should be making the decisions for the people.

  13. @Enough >> I agree that a Doraville cluster is a great idea! I also think we need to rebalance the schools we have – as in – send transfers to their home schools. (There are somewhere around 600-700 students at CCHS on a transfer. Why create a charter high school, which invites transfers, when the school would be jam-packed with resident students?) Same with Lakeside and Dunwoody – a lot of special transfers attend there. Sadly, the system doesn’t check residency with any degree of attention and they allow transfer requests regardless of room. I was in the Dunwoody office waiting area one summer day with six students enrolling – all on special admin transfers from the superintendent. It’s so wrong that students who live in the attendance zone have to have classes in trailers because their school is over-crowded due to so many transfer allowances. The magnet program should not be necessary anymore – it was originally created in response to the federal mandate to integrate our schools. ALL schools should be offering gifted classes, AP courses and highly qualified teachers. Transfers should only be approved if there are seats available.

  14. @Stan>> I am just referencing the history of corruption in DeKalb schools. There is still a big old lack of trust due to that history. In fact, every time a new $$$ Central Office position is created, rather than adding 3 more teachers for the same price, more trust goes out the window.

  15. “Classrooms in temporary structures are not counted as acceptable instructional units in the local facilities plan.”
    “A plan to replace all temporary educational facilities with permanent educational facilities must be included in the LEA’s local facilities plan.”
    Where do the students in trailers go during a tornado?
    It seems as though the GaDOE doesn’t care what DeKalb County Schools does. It is obvious the school district plans to use hundreds of trailers indefinitely.
    Crazy thought here: what if the district didn’t keep the trailers more than 8.3 years, or 15 years? Any amount of time less would be a cost savings AND would mean students were being taught in schools, not trailers.

  16. Stan,
    I laughed out loud when I read “administrators and board members believe they are the professionals and should be making the decisions for the people.”
    Other than Dr. Green, and the people he has brought in, there are very few (single digits) “professionals” in the administration.
    Being paid a lot of money doesn’t make a person a “professional.”

  17. Agreed. Neither does getting elected. You should hear these people talk about how parents don’t know what’s best for their children.

  18. Fed up retired DEKALB teacher

    Having taught almost fifteen years in an old terrible moldy, leaking trailer I can tell you IT IS NOT ENJOYABLE FOR STUDENTS OR TEACHERS. Someone asks where you go? Inside into the hallways.
    Run to an entry door to go to the bathroom in the rain and cold hoping it is unlocked or someone hears you banging on door. Teachers must get another teacher to come sit your kids while you run to the building.
    and what if they can’t come? You are in a mess! Do you honestly think people in the business world would put up with this? Teachers have no respect! As long as you are a babysitter in the room things are fine.
    Think how easy it would be for a “bad” person to knock a trailer door down to come in, you are often far from the main building isolated. The door was often open because air conditioner wasn’t working properly. But does the administration or board think of these things. I think not.
    Another something I want to bring up are defibrillators in schools. I learned recently there was three instances where one was needed for children with health problems and of course Deakalb schools DO NOT have them, the answer was “too expensive”. But in another Gwinnett school I am familiar with they has 4, yes 4! Guess Gwinnett children’s lives are more important to their administrators. Something to think about Board and Greene! Maybe parents need to have input into budget requests or hey teachers and principals the people who know what the school needs!
    More trailers are NOT the answer!

  19. @Cere we agree! Magnet program is out dated and no longer services a purpose besides deciding who gets a better education based on a lottery. Unfortunately, my fear has always been that it’s going to take a devastating event before anyone deems trailers/portables unsafe. What was once a temporary solution has become permanent fix to save money for unnessesary jobs at county level. I worked in DeKalb and APS, DeKalb isxa bigger mess by far. APS would renovate, update and add second campuses before trailers ; they were out in front of every situation. And some of them went to jail!!!!! That’s what a mess DeKalb is, and it gets worse every year!

  20. The magnet program is on very shaky grounds legally. Why should one family who pays the same amount of taxes as another, and has a child that qualifies, not get those services simply because their name was not drawn from a lottery? Seems to me that reeks of a potential lawsuit.

  21. Chad Peterson

    “Please just read our 2013 post on the subject where the decision was made by the Board to buy out leases and purchase all trailers going forward”
    So, does the county lease trailers or not? It seems like we purchase them. Is their a group of people suggesting to lease them?

  22. Chad,
    That was me.
    I sent an email to the BOE before the February BOE meeting and Dr. Morley asked if leasing would be a more cost effective option. Mr. Williams has emphasized trailers were needed for swing space during construction and not admitted the district plans to use them indefinitely. He gave Dr Morley a misleading answer and I sent another email to Dr. Morley and the BOE on February 16 with the title “An Open Letter Regarding Portable Classrooms.”
    Here is that email.
    Dr. Morley,
    Thank you for asking some of the questions I raised regarding the $3.1 million for portable classrooms Monday afternoon. It is good to see the BOE questioning staff regarding large expenditures.
    I was disappointed with some the answers provided by Mr. Williams and by the lack of a plan for the use of the trailers.
    When asked about trailers “in storage” at Panthersville Stadium, Mr. Williams only mentioned the 25 trailers which are to be decommissioned. He did not acknowledge the 31 trailers being stored which are new.
    The current contracted price for a single-wide portable classroom is approximately $31,250. The current price for a quad-classroom is approximately $162,350. Without a plan, the BOE approved the purchase of, potentially, 25 (or more) additional trailers.
    I have to ask why, when there are 31 trailers “in storage” at Panthersville Stadium. If the reason to justify this purchase is to replace older trailers currently in use, where is the plan? How many trailers will be “in storage” in the future? Why is the district purchasing trailers, only to sit at Panthersville Stadium, when there are trailers in use which need to be replaced? In other words, if there are trailers which need to be replaced, why haven’t they been already?
    While on the topic of plans, are you aware the GaDOE regulations regarding Local Facility 5-Year Plans require LEAs to include a plan to eliminate the use of portable classrooms? Mr. Williams is aware of that, and yet is purchasing, not renting, portable classrooms.
    At this time it appears there is no plan for eliminating portable classrooms. When there is a plan put in place, there needs to be an accounting for the revenue from the sale of used portables. The absence of such an accounting would be very troubling.
    I am attaching the Portables Inventory received on Sept. 1, 2016 in response to an Open Records Request. It only lists 29 portable classrooms as being located at Panthersville Stadium, being “surplus” and in “good” condition. On January 3, 2017, I counted 31 new portable classrooms behind the stadium. I also counted 25 portable classrooms to be decommissioned. There were 51 portable classrooms all together along with seven semi-trailers inexplicably parked on the property. Is the district collecting rent for the storage of those semi-trailers?

    Thank you again, for raising some of the questions I shared prior to Monday’s meeting. Please, keep up the good work.

  23. @Kirk,
    You mention that “GaDOE regulations regarding Local Facility 5-Year Plans require LEAs to include a plan to eliminate the use of portable classrooms.”
    After following DCSD actions for the past 10 years, I have come to the conclusion that GaDOE regulations mean almost nothing.
    Requirement to allocate 65% of funds to the classroom? No need to comply. Just get a retroactive waiver.
    Class size maximums? No need to comply. Just get a waiver.
    Plan a 2400 seat high school on a campus less than half the size defined in GaDOE docments? No need to comply. I’m not even sure a waiver is required to ignore this requirement.
    So I am not at all surprised that DCSD feels no need to prepare – or comply! – with a plan to eliminate the use of portables.
    GaDOE has very little enforcement authority.

  24. DeKalb Schools chose to become a Strategic Waiver School System (SWSS) back in 2015. In doing so they get many waivers in perpetuity. The Guideline for Educational Facility Construction is not covered by those waivers. However, like most GaDOE regulations and state laws, there is an escape hatch for the school district.
    The Guideline for Educational Facility Construction says the school district must have a plan to replace all temporary educational facilities with permanent educational facilities. It doesn’t say the school district must follow it. In fact, it goes on to say it is understood if the plan is not followed.

  25. DeKalb doesn’t have a plan.

  26. Stan,
    So if being a SWSS district means that DCSD has waivers over most things, don’t you think that DCSD policies are needed? If we’re not going to follow what DCSD says, do the Administration and BOE just make it up as they go along? Or is there any effort to identify what DCSD’s goals are for class size, use of portables, funding for the classroom vs. central office, and so forth?
    SWSS sounds like a sweet deal for DCSD but not necessarily for the teachers and students.

  27. Are new policies needed? If the school district has been getting waivers for things like class size and 65% rule, it would be impossible to pass meaningful policies reinstating those restrictions.
    The GaDOE looks at themselves as advisors and not regulators of the school district. I believe the school district sees policies, DOE rules and state law more as guidelines and recommendations.
    I’ve been harping on class size, 65% rule and teacher pay for years to no avail.
    The district has define its own balanced scorecard stating the Goals and Performance Measures for the school district:

  28. Stan,
    Thanks for posting the link to the DCSD Balanced Scorecard. It is a comprehensive set of metrics.
    But why is the only data posted for the 2014-15 school year? The columns for 2013-14 and 2015-16 are blank.
    If this is important, surely the District could report status. Surely the BOE could review status.
    This is very disturbing.

  29. I have a hard copy of an updated balanced scorecard. I’ll ask the administration to update the online version.