Modern methods of construction and new technologies have made modular buildings more appealing and a more viable solution for whole school buildings or extensions, writes Bob Mears from the Modular & Portable Building Association.
As a baby boomer, being in secondary education in the mid 70s meant being in a school with 1,100 other pupils which had originally been designed to cater for 600.
A large percentage of education was carried out in “prefab” classrooms, which were too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer and always felt as though you were walking across a trampoline.
The modular industry has come a long way since those days, with modern methods of construction and new technologies making not only temporary classrooms a more appealing and viable solution than they once were but also permanent modular an option for whole school buildings or indeed extensions.
Plans announced on 11 May 2018 by Education Secretary Damian Hinds stated that “new good school places in areas where they are needed most will give more children from all backgrounds the world-class education they deserve.”
“The package of measures will create more school places, giving parents greater choice and raising education standards.”
Amongst other things the plan includes £50 million funding to expand the number of places at existing good or outstanding selective schools alongside measures to give more disadvantaged pupils the opportunity to attend these schools.
So, with the plan in place and the funding available, why should the education sector consider a modular solution?
The modular construction process is in the majority about manufacturing rather than building and the fact that a good deal of the process is carried out offsite in a controlled factory environment means projects can be fulfilled in a much more time specific manor and to a high standard of finish.
The accuracy of timing involved and the lack of work required on site means that school projects can be scheduled for completion during school holidays, which makes for minimal disruption and a safer environment.
We also know that production is far more environmentally friendly than construction.
Whether you accept that construction waste is five per cent or 15 per cent, manufacturing in a controlled environment produces less than one per cent waste. Take this a step further: at five per cent waste this means that for every 20 classrooms you build using traditional methods on site you throw one away.
First hand experience
Financially, it has long been argued that modular building is far more economical when compared to traditional construction, but can we now evidence that?
Wernick Buildings recently completed a new classroom block for Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School in Aylesbury.
Assistant head Ian Bryant shares his experience: “Part of the school’s strategic plan was to grow student numbers across all year groups.
This had both financial and space implications – we could not achieve our objectives without gaining funding and using this to provided additional facilities for teaching and learning.
“We aim to deliver the best value for the funds provided to us, and modular buildings deliver this compared to a traditional build.
The cost per square metre is well below the Department for Education guidelines and this enabled us to have the space we wanted within the funding made available.
“We had previous experience of modular building having erected both a building with classrooms and a more specialist facility for teaching dance. Both these, built in 2011 (by Wernick Buildings, as it happens) have delivered as required, and as a result our confidence in this type of building was high.
“Apart from the value for money that modular buildings provide, the build timetable is also much shorter than for a traditional building. Therefore the impact on the school operation is minimised and that is to be welcomed.
“We have a new building exactly as we wanted. It was delivered on budget, on time, and to the standard we wanted – so we are pleased with the result.”
Commenting further on the details of the building project, Ian said: “The new building houses nine standard class rooms (some of which can have a central partition removed to create larger spaces), an IT suite, a large sixth form study area incorporating an IT area and a catering facility, a kitchen, offices, toilet areas, and space for lockers.
All areas have sufficient light and incorporate ceiling mounted heat/cool units (and so remove the need for radiators). All movement areas have non-slip flooring that continues up the walls to minimise the impact of scuffs from pupils bags (a continual problem that all schools will be familiar with).
“The quality of the build, including the surrounding courtyard area, is to a high standard, as we would expect from our previous experience of working with Wernick.
“What’s more, pupils and staff have been delighted by the new building. Of course we have incorporated certain design improvements in the five years since the last building was erected by Wernick – some from them and some from our own operational experience.”
Commenting on whether he would recommend a modular build for another school, Ian said: “Absolutely, and without reservation. We now have three modular buildings on site; each delivers what we want at a cost to build far below traditional builds.”
Unfortunately, in the UK there appears to be some ill-informed perceptions that modular buildings are somehow inferior to traditional building methods.
If you look across Europe and North America, modular buildings have been widely and successfully used for many, many years. They incorporate the latest materials, provide flexibility in design, offer high levels of energy conservation, are quick to erect, are cost effective and provide long term solutions.
There is another misconception about modular, which is that it has to be considered as a standalone solution. This is simply not the case. Indeed the term “hybrid” has been adopted by the offsite industry for a number of years now and relates to the process of adopting two or more different technologies on the same project, thus attaining the benefits from each.
A good example of this is the Global Academy project in Hayes, West London, which was completed by Portakabin using both Modular and traditional site-based construction solutions.
The Global Academy has an iconic, futuristic design which has created an inspiring environment for learning. A spectacular roof-lit central atrium provides a dynamic circulation space and focal point for the college. There is a sculptural feature staircase and a high level of glazing to the classrooms. The colour pallet is bold and expressive with strong graphics.
Anodised Aluminium mesh cladding encloses the north and south elevations from first floor to roof level with areas of full height glazing around the ground floor.
Will Harding, global academy’s chair of governors said of this project: “The building makes a real impression on everyone, and the students and teachers very much enjoy the facilities. The design has created a fantastic learning environment for our students. Thanks to Portakabin, we achieved an ambitious building programme in less than a year.”