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Destruction of Portable Classrooms Ignores Haiti’s Urgent Needs


8.4.10 UPDATE: We are seeking ideas on how to cut the costs of shipping the portable classrooms described below and expedite the delivery process, as reported on August 3 and 4 by South Florida’s television station CBS4 and radio station WIOD.  If you have suggestions, please e-mail us by using the Contact Page on this site.

Despite a creative commitment to ship scores of wood framed portable classrooms to help the Haitian people rebuild their society, hefty obstacles are standing in the way of making progress. Economics, logistics and the lack of creativity are frustrating an urgent recovery and rebuilding effort.

According to the Sun-Sentinel on July 25, “…school districts throughout South Florida are deciding what to do with hundreds of portables they no longer need.” The report notes that in Palm Beach County, many unused stand-alone surplus classrooms have been destroyed, instead of being put to another purpose. Two counties to the south, in Miami-Dade, hundreds more are waiting for demolition.

In Fort Lauderdale, less than two miles from one of the busiest sea ports in North America, 118 portables now sit on what is essentially an architectural death row, while their continued potential to provide safe housing is being ignored. First offered by the Broward County School Board to help Haiti in 2008 after hurricane damage, the portables have been waiting to be put to use.

Month after month, they sit…unused.

The destruction of empty portables is simply criminal when given the alternatives. The need for new Haitian schools was underscored when the United Nations stated in February, 2010, that as many as 8,000 schools that served 1.8 million students were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake, just in the area around the hard hit Port-au-Prince region.

These mobile classrooms have been employed for decades as a solution to overcrowding in Florida schools. No longer needed due to slightly decreasing school populations, they can be reinvigorated as clinics, schools, government offices, shops, storage compounds and even homes…all of which are desperately needed in the nature ravaged nation now dotted by frail tent cities.

The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation has already, and wisely, recognized the utility of transporting these willing edifices to the island nation. It has shipped four to Haiti.  A worthy effort, but one which only scratches the surface of the problem. The need is enormous.

The Broward County School Board has offered 85 mobiles for the Haitian relief effort, and that was before the earth moved in January, 2010. But still, six months after the horror of January’s destruction, the portables sit, waiting, without present purpose.

There seems to be a huge disconnect. If the School Board of Miami-Dade County wants to help in a sustainable manner, why is it planning to destroy portable classrooms instead of sending them where they are desperately needed?

Hold on…these are “portables.” Let’s make them useful again and get them on the ground in Haiti.

This dilemma presents an opportunity to help people in desperate need and bring significant relief to a society that cries out for resilient structures. However, cost, as usual, is problematical. The Sun-Sentinel reports, “Officials estimate the price of dismantling, destroying or moving portables at about $20,000 to $30,000 each,” when considering severing utilities, taking apart the buildings, transportation of the parts and reassembly.

It’s time for some common sense and sweat equity.

You’ve wondered what you can do as the earthquake headlines fade from your computer and video screens.  Here’s your chance. Let’s dramatically slash the cost of the relocation process.

Just as Habitat For Humanity can build houses, all of us can band together and work with the school boards, private corporations, the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), the UN and Washington to dismantle, transport and rebuild these portable solutions on designated sites in Haiti.

Communities, universities and organizations can volunteer their time and energies to carefully take apart the unused places of learning so they can be shipped in sections. Cost reduced. Trucking companies can donate flatbed transportation from the portable storage areas to seaports. Cost reduced again. Insurance companies (yes you Progressive, Allstate, State Farm and GEICO) can insure, as a donation, the relocation project activities. Costs further cut. Shipping companies and the cruise industry (hello Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL and the like) can work with the U.S. Navy and the island government to carry the portables across the sea to Haitian ports. Costs mitigated once more.

NGO’s can employ Haitian workers with a fraction of some of the hundreds of millions of dollars already donated, to help transport over land the wooden shelters and reconstruct them. Other paid Haitian workers can seal and strengthen the waiting structures to help protect against the harsh island heat, rain and mud.

Let’s set a modest goal. Move five portables to the Republic of Haiti each month for the rest of 2010. If just one hundred people donate their time and resources once a month on a Saturday and Sunday, we can start dismantling the portables and begin the process of carrying them to our hemispheric neighbors. If we create public/private partnerships in this aspect of disaster relief, you and I can stop the sorry destruction of these useful building solutions and help construct a better resiliency for the people of crisis-torn Haiti.

Frail tents are not sufficient for long term educational stability. A more lasting solution is available and transportable wood framed mobile classrooms.

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