Lease agreement on portables follows heated discussion


After many years of leasing portable classrooms and failed referendums on constructing a new elementary school, the Princeton School District will be renting 14 portable school rooms again at South Elementary.
The School Board approved the new three-year lease on July 16 following a sometimes heated meeting of the board’s Finance Committee. The rental rate will be $105,500 per year. While members of the Finance Committee weren’t happy about having to pay that much rent, they agreed they didn’t have a choice because there is insufficient room in the main South Elementary building. The portable classroom complex is a long rectangular building in which 12 of the 14 units are classrooms, with one of the 12 classrooms being a computer lab. The other two units are resource rooms.
Michelle Czech, director of business services, explained to the Finance Committee that if the board didn’t renew the lease, the company that owns the portables, Innovative Modular, would remove them, and the second-graders wouldn’t have classrooms.
The board did have the option of renting the portable classrooms for $102,000 per year for three years instead of at the $105,500 rate, but the lower rate did not include maintenance assistance, while the higher rate does.
Discussion becomes heated
During the Finance Committee discussion on the portables, School Board member and Finance Committee Member Chuck Nagle mentioned that he had gone out and gathered quotes on what it would cost in materials and labor to build a 160-foot-by-60-foot pole building. He said he understood, from talking to a builder, that it could be constructed next year to save the cost of renting portables. The district could “essentially” build such a structure for what the district is paying in rent in three years, Nagle said.
District building and grounds coordinator Keith Barlage wasn’t impressed with the suggestion. It would turn out to look like the district’s worn out steel agricultural building after a few years, he said.
Nagle responded that he wasn’t thinking of the kind of building for which he was getting quotes as being a “long-term solution.”
Superintendent Julia Espe answered that one problem with Nagle’s idea is that the district can’t get just a one-year rental lease.
Eric Minks, who chairs the Finance Committee, said that Nagle’s suggestion “just won’t do.”
Nagle asserted that the company leasing the portables to the district is “putting a gun to our head.”
Minks said he couldn’t disagree that the district is in a corner.
But Finance Committee Member Jeremy Miller asked Nagle why he would suggest someone was “putting a gun to our head,” or inferring “blackmail” if the rental amount is the market rate.
Minks suggested that if the board approved putting up a pole building for elementary classrooms that “half the district would be up your you know what.” Minks responded again later to some of Nagle’s suggestions on dealing with school facilities, called those ideas “100 percent wrong.” Minks also called Nagle to task for going out and asking for bids without any direction from the Finance Committee or School Board to do that.
“You’re acting out of your scope as a school board member,” Minks told Nagle.
Minks thanked Czech for saving the district money by negotiating with Innovative Modular. The last three-year lease of the 14-unit portable complex at South Elementary was $112,490 per year. The difference in cost between the leases is  $20,970.
Czech noted that when the district first got the portables, they had electric heat, and because that was so expensive, the district paid to convert them to fuel heat.