TAVARES — Several months ago, the Lake County School Board rejected the idea of taking on more debt to build new schools in favor of a pay-as-you-go policy that enables them to build schools when they can pay cash.

And while board members agreed that it was a fiscally responsible approach, they are discovering that it created another dilemma: How will the school district pay for a number of portable classrooms it needs to handle overflow at crowded campuses?

The pay-as-you-go approach will allow the district to build a K-8 in the Four Corners area by 2021 and renovate an aging Fruitland Park Elementary by 2024. It would also build a new Clermont K-8 in 2024.

Meanwhile, Lake County schools are expected to grow by an estimated 1,438 students by 2021, a consultant for the school district told board members in February.

With many schools at capacity or over capacity, the district would have no choice but to either purchase or lease portables to meet the growing student population, school officials said.

But those portables come with a cost.

“It could be in excess of $100,000 for a portable that meets the newest requirement,” said Harry Fix, the school district's growth director.

Fix said the board decides every January how many portables it will need.

As a result, it is not clear how many the district would need in the next school year.

However, the School Board in its five-year capital plan budgeted $700,000 yearly for leasing and transferring  portables. 

Sawgrass Bay Elementary and Windy Hill Middle School are already over capacity and will need more portables.

Although School Board members chose to not take on more debt, Fix said the district still incurs costs.

“There is also a cost to delaying” new schools, he said, citing increased construction costs and the cost of placing portables in schools. “In the short term, they may have the money to place the portables, but you are leasing a temporary space and putting in all this money. Would it be easier in the long run to build?”

School Board member Marc Dodd said it boils down to the cost of not borrowing money versus the interest the district would pay on a bond.

“Bonding only pushes our timeline (for new schools) by two years,” Dodd said. “How many portables would we be likely to place in that two-year period and how many leases would we have in that two-year period? What would we pay in interest? The amount of interest exceeds the cost of portables.”

If School Board members took out a $50 million bond over a 5- to 10-year period, they would pay more than $4 million in interest, Dodd said, adding that the price tag far exceeds the cost of portable classrooms.

Fix said there are also downsides to adding portables on full campuses such as Sawgrass Bay, which already has more than 19 portables.

“Staffing becomes a problem,” he said.

School Board member Bill Mathias did not seem as concerned about the issue, saying that if there is a need for more portables the district will have the funds available.

Meanwhile, school officials are investigating a claim that there are not enough portables at Tavares Middle School.