Utah’s portable classrooms could be risky, experts say

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Portable classrooms used by hundreds of Utah students every day could be risky without a set of uniform standards, engineering experts said.

Leaders of state civil and structural engineering groups issued a statement on Jan. 17, urging officials to adapt new standards on the modular buildings used by schools and offices, the Salt Lake Tribune reported .

The groups said any structure used more than 180 days should be considered permanent and be subject to rigorous structural codes.

“At the minimum, Utah schools should adhere to the code more strictly by securing portable classrooms to the ground with use of a permanent footing and foundational system,” said Matt Roblez, a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers Utah Section. “Until this code can be properly enforced, Utah should write an adopted standard for schools to follow.”

Natalie Grange, an assistant state superintendent for the Utah Board of Education, said the ground portable classrooms are placed on is studied beforehand to check seismic and soil conditions, but she said the structures are not required to be on a permanent foundation.

The structures are commonly used as a cheap fix when school districts run out of classroom space. Utah’s two largest school districts, Alpine and Davis, operate 363 and 347 portable classrooms, respectively.

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams described the modular units as a necessary evil.

“We wish we could get away from them, but as you see from the numbers, 347 of them, we use them quite a bit,” Williams said. “We definitely make sure that it’s safe for people to occupy them.”

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