Brampton Academy. Photo credit Wernick

Constructing school buildings offsite

Modular schools are helping to resolve many of the problems encountered by the education sector, such as the need to meet growing pupil places within a quick time-frame and with minimal disruption, writes the Modular and Portable Building Association

Photo shows Brampton Academy, credit: Wernick

Following a recent government announcement, offsite construction must now be considered for all public sector building projects.
Offsite manufacture for construction refers to building processes that are implemented away from building sites in factories which ensures the quality of pre-fabricated components. These components are then transported and installed onsite. It is often cited as the optimum offsite solution – volumetric modular technology minimises waste while maximising safety and minimises costs while maximising quality.
Because of this, UK demand for modular construction is on the rise. As the efficient offsite building method for timber, steel and concrete designs – modular construction is considered a potential solution to meet the demand for high quality education facilities.

Educational buildings

With over 450 new schools and classrooms required per annum under the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), modular building is most prevalent in the education sector. However offsite building practices are rapidly expanding into residential applications too, including housing, hotels and student accommodation.
The MPBA is at the forefront of offsite manufacturing processes and is supporting members across numerous sectors to enhance innovation and technological advancement in the modular building industry. As a practical building method that delivers at scale and increases productivity – volumetric modular construction is on the rise. Therefore, the MPBA is supporting member companies through specialised advice based on their ongoing research. The MPBA assists its members in introducing innovative methods and processes that are used in other industries, such as automotive and aerospace, to advance manufacturing techniques and improve productivity.

Meeting individual needs

The demand for customisation in modular building compels the manufacturing industry to develop new methods for adaption of mass production to meet individual customer needs. Because of this, design processes have evolved in line with construction processes. The MPBA assists members in their collaboration with architects, designers and engineers to orchestrate design protocols, conceive products for manufacturing processes and integrate these into final designs.

Production and configuration processes have been developed by conducting functional requirement analysis to identify design parameters for modular construction. These methods typically constrain project modularisation through four key parameters. These include customer requirements for modular design; engineering view according to deflection, strength, wind loads, fire, acoustic and building regulations; product dimensions and transportation constraints according to factory regulations and capacity; and onsite assembly constraints according to site layout/plans.
Rules of modular buildings can be integrated into architectural CAD drawings using Revit structures, where key features of steel, concrete and timber modules can be incorporated in ‘modular toolkits.’
Through detailed research, development of modular building methodologies enables developers and stakeholders to deliver projects with accelerated schedule and cost reduction, creating a panacea of cost-effective construction methods on consistent bases.
Jackie Maginnis, MPBA’s chief executive, said: “customers appreciate cutting-edge building techniques, particularly with the short lead times of modular construction.     
“Modular buildings and extensions are energy efficient, fully compliant with building regulations and can be tailored to meet individual customer requirements.”

Energy efficiency

The demand for new school places is a pressing issue for local councils all over the UK. The situation is starting to improve thanks to government funding, but councils still face a number of challenges. With the increasing focus on the environment and growing energy costs, councils are under more pressure than ever to deliver energy-efficient spaces, within stringent budgets and timescales.
Safety of pupils and minimising disruption during term time, remains a pressing and challenging issue.
This need to focus on a myriad of challenges means that councils are uniquely placed to take advantage of modern methods of construction.
Modular schools, delivered to site in segments over two or three days are helping to resolve many of the problems encountered by the education sector. And new frameworks are revolutionising the school building procurement process.
Quicker and Safer

The Scottish Government has announced a £1 billion fund for rebuilding and refurbishing Scotland’s schools, meaning a busy year for the construction industry.
Edinburgh and The Highlands Council took receipt of nineteen new modular buildings from modular construction company Wernick last summer.
Installation fit out and inspection took place over the summer vacation and the buildings were ready for pupils upon returning to school.
Ben Wernick, director of construction at Wernick explains: “Modular building projects can be completed up to 50 per cent quicker than traditional construction methods as the factory controlled ‘offsite’ construction process can take place alongside site and foundations work which also means very little delay due to the weather. Finishing buildings over the summer holidays means no disruption to teaching and no risk to pupils.”

Changing Perceptions

More and more schools are switching on to the speed of factory manufactured buildings, but what about the aesthetic? The characterless demountables of the past have given way to digitally-led, modern designs, indistinguishable from traditionally constructed buildings and lauded by architectural firms such as ÜberRaum and Glancy Nicholls.
“The preconceptions are there but the reality is that when people walk into a modern modular building that Wernick has manufactured, they realise this is a big step up from what they’re used to,” commented Chris Hart, who has found that old feelings towards modular buildings die hard: “I’ve heard of teaching staff trying their best to avoid moving into the new building. Once the building has been handed over, they are trying to get in there first. They’re warmer, cleaner, bright and airy. From a teaching perspective, it’s a considerable improvement on a lot of the accommodation the teachers are currently working in.”

Quality Control

Constructing buildings offsite, in a controlled environment, means that a building can be made water-tight and weather resistant with quality controls ongoing throughout the build. Modern modular buildings are simple to maintain, well insulated and achieve high EPC rating. Sustainable technologies can be easily incorporated into the design to further support their eco credentials.
Chris Hart adds: “Using factory construction, we can build faster, to higher standards, and at any time of the year. There are also environmental benefits with reduced waste and less emissions. In modular construction we can really meet a lot of the requirements in the education sector – that’s why we think it’s a perfect match.”


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