The past year has seen an unprecedented shake up of the traditional school model, but there have also been major developments in the often-unseen aspects of educational infrastructure – one of which being a move towards modular designs.
Modular design builds for schools are a Modern Method of Construction (MMC) which have become increasingly popular in recent times, following last year’s launch of the Department for Education (DfE)’s Offsite Framework. This signals a growing trend of school buildings being constructed offsite, with the DfE set to invest £3bn in modular renovation of multiple schools across the UK.
A modular classroom is a permanent structure constructed in component parts offsite, allowing for quick and easy assembly onsite. In the time taken to prepare the site, the manufacture of the new building itself can take place elsewhere. As such, the building can progress through phases of construction uninhibited by factors such as weather conditions and general site problems.
According to the National Audit Office, on-site construction time can be halved by adopting modular builds. It enables new buildings to be built in a very short time, i.e. over the summer holiday period.
Whatever the timescale of a project, modular manufacturing gives a greater sense of certainty in terms of project delivery and this is a huge advantage for decision makers when it comes to budgeting, as the buildings have a crucial, definitive opening date, such as the start of school term. This is particularly important as the very existence of construction work can be disruptive for the day-to-day running of a school and the pupils’ capacity to learn. Modular construction is also of benefit to those working on the building.
The controlled environment reduces, and can even eliminate entirely, the need to work at heights. Without being constrained by the surrounding environment of a school site, this allows for greater mechanical assistance with the construction, as well as increased separation of workers and vehicles. With workers not needing as much time on site, space is freed.
This also further benefits the community local to the school, with a reduction in traffic to the site and disturbance to residents. This reduction in high levels of traffic is a key reason why schools should consider modular builds, CO2 emissions produced by the machinery and vehicles involved are lowered as a result.
The buildings are manufactured to tightly designed specifications, meaning any left-over materials can be used for future projects. Furthermore, the carbon footprint from use of concrete in modular designs is limited and the energy consumed to keep them warm and lit is diminished in comparison to typical brick and mortar equivalents.
Using these types of construction methods provides the opportunity to use sustainable materials. This helps to comply with building standards and helps with quality control, as the manufacturing processes are much more meticulous.
Modular build classrooms can last for decades and provide a great replacement for the temporary classrooms which are often ugly with interiors ill-suited to creating an environment conducive for learning. One of the main draws of those prefabricated huts was their portability.
This is something you don’t have to sacrifice with the modern alternatives, though, as modular classrooms can be deconstructed and then reconstructed in a new location. These benefits are of little consequence if they come at an increased cost. However, the nature of the off-site construction and on-site installation makes for a more efficient and productive manufacturing process.
This cost-effectiveness extends beyond the construction itself – modular designs are expandable, enabling the school to increase the pupil capacity of the building without incurring a large cost. They also allow for flexible management of space, meaning that schools can facilitate fluctuating numbers of pupils.
Regardless of which routes schools decide to take, one thing is for certain: the space available to schools is becoming more at a premium every year and the appetite for innovative solutions is growing as a result.
Dean Pettitt, Sector Lead at Southerns Broadstock