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Modular classrooms gaining strength with school boards

With budget, space needs, and speed-to-market pressures bearing down on school districts, modular classroom assemblies are often a go-to solution.

August 30, 2013 |
Sprout Space, a modular template designed by Perkins+Will, is a high-performance

While modular construction offers many benefits—notably less construction waste, project delivery efficiencies, and factory-controlled, high-quality fabrication—school districts frequently view modular as a temporary solution, and settle for units with poor design and low-quality materials. As a result, when the “temporary” modules inevitably turn into permanent structures, they fall short in terms of aesthetics and building performance.

Today, however, school districts are starting to look at higher-quality modular construction, with the understanding that the classrooms may remain on site for a number of years and must provide a proper learning environment, says Wendy Rogers, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Design Principal with LPA Inc.

Building Teams are using incremental improvements as a strategy to create better modular solutions. For example, in a recently completed a 35,000-sf modular two-story project, LPA pushed the manufacturer to upgrade many of its standard details in order to ensure that the products met the project’s design criteria.

When executed properly, prefab construction can offer column-free interior spaces that promote flexibility and access to crawl space, open ceilings that allow for easy technology upgrades, and rainscreen building envelopes that are highly insulated and allow options and variation for exterior materials, according to Chester Bartels, Senior Designer with Baltimore design firm Hord Coplan Macht.



For example, the firm’s modular learning studios at the Barrie School in Silver Spring, Md., easily convert into large group learning spaces, multiple small group collaboration areas, and a large town hall lecture room—all supported by flexible furniture, movable wall panels, smart boards, good acoustics, and strategically designed fenestration for optimized daylighting and views.

A recent exhibition, Green Schools, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., included a green classroom called “Sprout Space,” developed by Perkins+Will. (See the time-lapse video of its construction at: P+W’s modular template in Sprout Space offers a healthy, sustainable, and flexible 21st-century modular classroom. The design incorporates passive and active green-building strategies and is highly customizable.

For instance, Sprout Space can incorporate sunshades, integrated rainwater collection, photovoltaic roof panels, LED lighting with lighting controls, efficient heating and cooling systems, and eco-friendly materials. “Sprout Space also features a dynamic plan that is well-suited for various teaching styles, seating configurations, and outdoor learning opportunities,” says Steven Turckes, P+W’s K-12 Education Global Market Leader. “Each classroom opens up to the outdoors through large bifold doors, encouraging experiential learning, expanding the classroom, and complementing numerous teaching methods.”

Because fabrication occurs simultaneously with foundation and site work, high-quality modular classrooms can be completed four times faster than conventional stick-built projects, says Turckes. Available in modules up to 1,500 sf in size, multiple buildings can also be linked together to create an entire school.

Another customizable modular template, called simply “sky,” comes from contractor Silver Creek Industries ( This high-performance modular classroom, which has been approved by the California Division of the State Architect, offers two contemporary floor plans and a variety of interior and exterior finish options—low- and no-VOC finishes, paints, and adhesives, sound-absorbent surfaces, high-performance windows, clerestory windows, tubular skylights, and an occupancy- and photo-control dimming system.

Ryan McIntosh, LEED AP BD+C, Project Manager and Director of Design Services for Silver Creek, says that sky modules beat California’s Title 24 baseline by up to 45%. The module has been developed to meet the CHPS PreFAB rating system, a label that designates qualifying prefabricated classrooms for use in high-performance building projects. Schools and districts can apply the CHPS PreFAB rating toward CHPS Verified recognition for new classrooms.

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