Last edited 15 Dec 2014

Modular buildings for education


[edit] Introduction

In this article, Robert Snook, Director and General Manager of Portakabin Hire, looks at how modular solutions can help schools and local authorities overcome place planning issues, and what education providers should consider when specifying interim accommodation.

Demographic changes caused by an increase in the birth rate and in immigration levels have led to a serious shortfall in primary school places across the UK. The provision of interim teaching accommodation using modular construction is a highly effective solution that more local authorities and schools are turning to. The approach enables schools to react very quickly to an increase in demand for school places, which can be difficult to predict, particularly at reception level.

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Accommodation can be configured and fitted out to a school’s exact requirements – as classrooms or dining rooms, for example. There is no risk to the school or local authority – the building can remain in use for as long as it is needed. And the approach gives education providers complete flexibility – the floor area can easily be increased or reduced in line with local needs.

[edit] Interim accommodation should not compromise children’s education

The quality of the education environment is a critical requirement, whether the child is being taught in interim or permanent accommodation. If a child is learning in an interim building for two years, for example, that could be one third of their time at that school. Parents and teachers rightly need confidence that children’s education will be unaffected.

The design requirements for new school buildings should also be transferred to interim solutions:

  • Inspirational spaces.
  • A high-quality teaching environment.
  • Buildings that promote security and supervision.
  • Buildings that create a positive identity and image for the school.
  • Accommodation that encourages pupil satisfaction, respect and self-esteem.
  • Varied teaching environments.

Exemplar concepts for school design can now be applied to interim teaching accommodation, provided the modular system is sufficiently flexible. Concepts can include:

  • Linear cloisters – uninterrupted spaces for flexibility and expansion.
  • Learning clusters – to house a year group, faculty or department.
  • Indoor courtyards – a heart for the school, social space or sheltered play area.
  • Outdoor classrooms – particularly for primary schools.

Any modular building, whether for interim or permanent use, should be configured for ease of supervision, efficient navigation and circulation, and to minimise pupil distraction.

In order to meet individual schools’ requirements and budgets, modular buildings can be standalone units, single-storey cluster departments, two-storey schemes or whole-school configurations. Buildings can be fitted out for a variety of uses, from general classrooms to reception and administrative centres, break-out and social spaces, and kitchen and dining facilities.

Portakabin Highgate School 6982-043.jpg

[edit] Providing accommodation on constrained school sites

Modular buildings can be an extremely effective solution for meeting challenging accommodation requirements on constrained school sites.

They can be located on the roofs of existing buildings, in completely enclosed courtyards or used to extend traditionally-constructed schemes. It is important for the modular specialist to work with each school to locate a building to meet their specific requirements and wherever possible to try to avoid using land required for other activities.

Buildings can be installed during school holidays to minimise any disruption to teaching.

[edit] A cost-effective solution to place planning issues

As budgets become tighter, specifiers need to look for alternatives to providing accommodation solutions that offer best value and yet maintain quality, whether for interim or permanent applications.

With the quality of interim solutions now available, schools no longer have to have permanent buildings in place to accommodate maximum numbers. An interim building can be used for peaks in school places, which can then be removed when the demand falls. This is a far more cost-effective option, particularly when there is pressure on funding for schools.

However, when comparing tenders, schools and local authorities should ensure they are comparing buildings and specifications that are like for like. The cheapest building option may not represent best value – and could compromise the quality of children’s education and staff morale in the longer term.

Schools also need to be aware that, as in other sectors, not all suppliers are the same, and not all will be able to provide the services required for a particular project.


[edit] How to select a modular building partner

To ensure high-quality interim teaching accommodation that meets standards for quality, aesthetics and performance, schools should look closely at the following criteria in their selection of a modular building partner:

  • Track record in delivery on time and on budget and the percentage of repeat business ideally over five years.
  • Availability of buildings from stock at short notice.
  • Service guarantees in place, if any.
  • Experience in the education sector to understand the issues.
  • Project management skills and resources at short notice.
  • Range of services, such as ground works, furniture supply and fitting out in the required timescale
  • Health and safety record.
  • Sustainability, waste minimisation, choice of materials, recycling initiatives.
  • A robust, quality construction for each classroom.
  • The design options available, such as; canopies, steps and ramps, air conditioning and so on.
  • Compliance with current Building Regulations, including fire and insulation.
  • Compliance with Department for Education design requirements
  • Air permeability performance for lower running costs. Ask to see independent test results to verify claims.
  • Can the supplier meet the full range of education solutions required? Infant toilets, wet play areas, special needs, science, food technology, dining etc.

Schools should also ensure that the modular manufacturer has the following accreditations and approvals in place for further peace of mind:


[edit] How modular construction is meeting the sustainability agenda

The environmental advantages of using a modular approach include:

  • Up to 67 per cent less energy is required to produce a modular building compared to an equivalent traditionally-built project (source: Arup).
  • Modular construction can generate up to 90 per cent fewer vehicle movements to site – reducing carbon emissions, congestion and disruption.
  • The approach can reduce on-site waste by up to 90 per cent (source: WRAP).
  • Quality controlled off-site production means modular buildings are manufactured to more consistently rigorous tolerances than conventional site-based building methods. This means a high level of energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions and lower running costs.
  • Improved opportunities for recycling waste generated in the manufacturing process.

--The Portakabin Group 11:56, 1 December 2014 (UTC)

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