“A building this size would make a perfect home for me,” I’ve thought many times as I’ve stood inside portable school classrooms. I’m referring to those industrial, squatty buildings, like the one pictured above, used by schools that find themselves with too many children to fit into existing structures.
Over the past several years it’s been part of my work to observe kids in their classrooms and consult with teachers, so, from time to time, I’ve found myself inside one of these “portables,” my attention skipping merrily past my work assignment to my personal agenda. “I wonder whether these things are ever available for sale,” I’d muse as I scanned the walls, the ceiling, the floor space. “It’d be so much fun to fix one up.”
There is simply no accounting for taste or sources of inspiration!
Imagine my delight, then, when I happened upon an ad for used, portable classrooms on Craig’s List and a link to this website: www.newmanmodulars.com. This was in November of last year, after I’d made an offer on my new property. The next day I packed some food for me and water and biscuits for Dobie and we were off to see the wizard—a phrase (from The Wizard of Oz) I used when my kids were little to signify the beginning of an adventure. In this case, the wizard was Ron, the “schoolhouse guy,” and his place of business and model building were three hours away.
I got lost and didn’t arrive until after dark. The model building—unfurnished, unadorned—had electricity. But, the ones parked on his property a few miles down the road were not hooked up, so he got a ladder and we crawled into a couple of them using my flashlight to check out the interiors. “Some of the buildings are in better shape than others,” he said. “I make sure that any wood that is bad is replaced. I warranty the roof and the heating and air conditioning unit for a year.”
Ron has an easy manner, a nice smile, a slight gap between his two front teeth. I was inclined to trust him.
It looked like I’d found the solution for putting a cheap, but reasonably sound, roof over my head. And, hey, how much greener can you get than using something that’s already been built? 840 square feet of open space save for a bathroom with a sink and toilet. All this for $8,500—including the move and installation! A little paint on the inside and outside, a little ingenuity and creative touch, and I’m in! Right?
Well, not exactly. Not yet. Little did I know, while following this yellow brick road, how tangled my slippers would get in all the red tape under foot.
We’re talking bureaucracy here. I’ve been getting to know some of the fine folks at the planning, zoning, and building departments in the county as I stumble through the maze of paperwork, regulations, and requirements for permits.
It turns out there is no distinct category for what I am trying to do. The portable and I fall between the bureaucratic cracks. Conversations with Mr. Bullock, the building inspector, and Danielle, the kindly assistant in the planning department, initially served to confound me rather than clarify the situation. Gradually, I’ve begun to unravel the red tape.
The portable classroom is referred to as a modular building. It is not a mobile home, even though it is moved like one (in two pieces), and set up like one (on concrete block piers). Obviously, it’s not a site-built home. But, paper-work-wise, it is treated as such. And this has some significant ramifications for me, as I must decide whether or not to take on all of the responsibility as the owner/contractor or find a licensed contractor who will step in—for a fee.
The next several days hold the key. I will call some contractors to explore that angle. And, I’ve been furnished by Ron, the schoolhouse guy, with the phone numbers of two women in other parts of Florida who have bought these buildings and had them installed by him and his crew. I’ll contact them to see whether they were pleased with the job.
In the meantime, the land, this Pixie Plantation, sits and patiently waits for me to sort out the problems. The millet grass, particularly lush right where the proposed building site is, grew so tall I needed to mow it last week. Four garden stakes tied with yellow surveyor’s tape mark the corners where the portable will stand.
I am like Dorothy, who, after her fling in Oz, just wanted to go back home to Kansas. I’m closing my eyes, clicking the soles of my little red clogs, and saying, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like a portable, schoolhouse home!”
What about you? Have you ever lived in something unconventional—for financial, artistic, or other reasons? Would you ever consider it?