Of the estimated 100,000 public school classrooms in New Jersey, thousands are considered “temporary” – although in truth most of them remain in use indefinitely. While temporary classrooms may sometimes be necessary, they must also be healthy and safe for staff and students. The use of temporary classrooms began decades ago as increasing student enrollments led to overcrowding. Widespread are single and double-wide trailers that sit apart from permanent school buildings. Just as familiar are hallways, coat rooms, closets, and other storage spaces inside permanent school buildings that are pressed into service by districts, often to house small classes such as speech therapy and child study teams.
The number of temporary classrooms has increased since 2001 when requirements for pre-school for 3- and 4-year olds began to go into effect. As these requirements take effect for additional districts, more trailers are likely to be used, although not necessarily for preschool students. Older students are more likely to be placed in trailers because of safety considerations.
Temporary classrooms are also used during school construction, especially during total renovations when all staff and students are temporarily relocated. The Schools Development Authority (SDA) owns 239 Temporary Classrooms Units (TCUs), which are trailers leased to high-poverty school districts to use as classrooms. SDA also owns or leases buildings, often parochial schools that have closed, that are then leased to districts. These, too, are considered temporary classrooms.
The most common problems with inside storage spaces used as classrooms include:
New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) facility regulations cover classroom design and construction requirements. Some useful provisions are listed below. Page numbers refer to regulations on the NJDOE website listed in the Resources section.
Local associations should work with their UniServ field representative to ensure that districts provide temporary classrooms that are safe and healthy for staff and students. Here are things to challenge the district on and, if necessary, mobilize with parents for:
Compliance: All temporary classrooms should meet the requirements of the NJDOE facility regulations summarized above and the Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) standard. See the NJEA Health and Safety Manual for more information on the IAQ standard.
Maintenance: The district should establish a regular and timely plan for testing, inspecting, and performing specific maintenance tasks. They should inspect roofs, ceilings, walls, floors, and carpets for evidence of water leakage or stains, and for mold growth or odor. They should replace water-damaged materials promptly and fix leaks as soon as possible.
Flush Out: Prior to use of any new trailer or one that has been unused, the district should operate the HVAC continuously for several days.
Ventilation: The HVAC system should provide a minimum of 15 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of outdoor air per occupant. Outdoor air should be supplied continuously while the trailer is occupied.
Communication: Districts should instruct teachers and maintenance staff on proper use and settings of thermostat and ventilation controls.
Replacement: Trailers shouldn’t be used beyond the recommended life of the unit, never more than 20 years, assuming excellent maintenance. Old units are likely to have problems, be energy inefficient and should be retired. Modernization of old units may be possible.
Quality: When specifying new trailers for lease or purchase, districts should specify high quality, following the guidelines given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). See the Resources section for websites. Some important things to specify:
No-and low-emitting building materials
Outdoor air intakes not located underneath the unit
Covered entries with entry mat
Acoustical upgrades to HVAC, windows, doors, ceiling tiles, and carpeting
Sensible siting: Siting should be away from noise sources like highways and pollution sources like parking areas. Site and orient to maximize the benefits of daylight coming in windows. Install proper grading and drainage systems under and around the trailer and skirts to discourage weeds and vermin.
EPA Portable Classrooms webpage: www.epa.gov/iaq/schooldesign/portables.html
CHPS Best Practices Manual and Assessment Tool for Relocatable Classrooms, 154 Pages, 2009: www.betterbuildingsbetterstudents.org/dev/Drupal/node/41
NJEA Health & Safety Manual: Indoor Air Quality in Schools, Pages 267 to 277
Summary of the Uniform Construction Code: www.state.nj.us/dca/codes/forms/pdf/ sum_of_ucc.pdf
Bulletin on Temporary Certificates of Occupancy: www.nj.gov/dca/codes/bulletins_ftos/list_of_bulletins_ftos/b01_2.pdf