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Modular in demand

Dec 5, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

We can't find a use for a well-equipped old school, but a tiny modular has multiple suitors

How odd is it that an acceptable use has been so difficult to find for several big, conspicuous school facilities once their initial purpose has been exhausted, yet a cheap little building in a parking lot that had become something of an afterthought is a hot commodity?

Not very, if you think about it.

In question is the modular house on the pavement outside Rendezvous Elementary School that has been serving as a small maintenance office. Jefferson School was torn down when no one would take it, Lincoln Elementary sits abandoned and unwanted, what's left of the old Riverton High School is half empty, Wilford Mower Track is crumbling, and Tonkin Stadium is becoming a forlorn relic with no takers. But the little modular building has multiple suitors.

Both the City of Riverton and Fremont County Government have their eyes on the building, which is sitting on blocks just south of the Rendezvous building. It looks as if this is one abandoned school structure that isn't going to become a long-term eyesore.

The modular is a product of an earlier school crowding crisis. Rendezvous was built 50 years ago as Riverton Junior High School, and was enlarged once since, along with undergoing several other internal reconfigurations including the major remodeling project this year that accommodates nearly 150 third-grade students as District 25 works to comply with the state-mandated 16:1 student-to-teacher ratio in elementary grades 3 and higher.

People of a certain age in Riverton remember using the modular building as a classroom. The school, which in those days educated students in grades seven, eight and nine, had become too crowded, and the modular house was one of two set up outside the main school to handle some overflow in certain classes. In conversation it was referred to as "the shed." Nowadays that approach would no longer be permissible, but at the time it was a godsend, albeit with a climate-control problem from time to time inside.

For years the modular has sat there, serving first one purpose, then another. With dollars thinning for other public entities that still have demonstrable needs, the nondescript little structure has more going for it than anyone would have thought. It's inexpensive, it's portable, it is still sound, it is versatile and, when its number finally does come up, no one will miss it.

It is reminiscent of the baseball player known as the utility man. A team might not be able to afford the big contract demands of a superstar, or might be hesitant to commit a lot of money to a new contract when the superstar could be past his prime. But there is always a place for the utility man -- and the money for him. He can play several positions, he doesn't complain about his role, he doesn't cost much, and he still can be an important contributor with few strings attached.

The school district will decide soon which of the competing entities -- city or county -- gets the small modular building. When that decision is made, you can rest assured that no sentimental community activist or historic preservationist will raise any ruckus. No one will care about losing it from the site that has been its home for nearly 40 years. It will simply be hauled off, cleaned up, and used again for the public good.

That's more than we can say about the hulking old school or the deteriorating track, or the empty old stadium so far. No one is claiming that our schools should consist of modular buildings lined up in a row, but the demand for "the shed" proves that sometimes being a useful generalist trumps being a costly specialist.

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