Modular school buildings mythbuster

by QA Education editor Victoria Galligan

With a rising number of pupils and an ever-increasing demand for schools in the most populated areas of the country, the need for more classrooms continues to grow – and fast. Many schools find themselves stuck in older buildings which now cost a lot to maintain or, worse still, are no longer fit for purpose.

Here, we look at the modern methods of construction (MMC) which are changing the landscape of the building trade and ask: is modular right for your school…

Modular school buildings mythbuster

MYTH: Modular buildings are just pre-fabs which won’t stand the test of time.

REALITY: Many of the negative perceptions about modular buildings are based on the 70s pre-fabs of yore, where these “temporary” buildings lasted well into the 90s and beyond – some are still being used today. But the technology used in modern methods of construction mean the flimsy, metallic boxes of 50 years ago are no longer – the quality is comparable and, in some cases, surpasses traditional bricks-and-mortar buildings. modular school myth buster - the Seismic Consortium app

 

MYTH: Modular buildings have thin walls and are cold in winter.

REALITY: The concrete panels used in many modular school builds have better thermal efficiency than traditional school buildings. They’re also extremely wind-resistant – some withstanding gusts of up to 462mph. Joseph Daniels of MMC specialists Project Etopia recently told Housing Association magazine: “Prefabrication used to be a byword for something could be easily transported and assembled. That was about it – but MMC now makes use of the other advantages of off-site preparation, which are in-built environmental efficiencies, greater complexity of possible designs and improved aesthetics.”

 

MYTH: A new building would be disruptive to pupils.

REALITY: Because modular buildings are built in sections offsite, fixtures and fittings can be added in the factory, reducing the amount of construction time needed on-site. Windows, doors, bathrooms and kitchens, for example, are fitted at the factory so sections just needed to be plumbed in and hooked up to electricity onsite. This means the actual time spent on the build at school is reduced massively in comparison to a brick-built building, and can be worked around the winter months and school term times.

Obviously there will be an element of noise and disruption on-site with any major work but the impact on pupils is lessened considerably with modular projects. Eugene Lynch, Chief Executive of The McAvoy Group, said recently: “The advantages of offsite construction for new public sector facilities are proven and clear. We can reduce the build programmes by up to 50 per cent for earlier occupation and offer significant quality improvements. Our approach also provides much greater certainty of delivery on time and on budget. These factors are very important for all public sector clients – from schools and hospitals to the emergency services, universities and local authorities.”

 

MYTH: MMC is a new area of construction, and still experimental.

REALITY: Amazingly, modular buildings have been used since the 1800s, with Thurston Group reporting: “The history of modular buildings is, surprisingly, truly intriguing. With the first on-record example of this type of housing is a home designed and constructed by London-based carpenter Henry Manning; upon creation, he transported it to Australia. So impressed were the residents, many more were soon created, possibly due to the fact that it was easily transported and assembled. How long ago was this? Right back in 1837!”

The post-war housing shortage, which began with the bombing of cities and was added to by the baby boom, meant factories were built to cope with the demand of temporary housing.

Since the 1990s, when the public sector began using MMC to build, for example, hospitals, the technology in terms of materials, energy efficiency, plumbing, electrics and transportation has evolved at a breakneck pace.

This year a consortium has come together to transform the way schools are built – the Seismic Consortium comprises construction consultants blacc, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), technology-led design practice Bryden Wood and two of the UK’s leading offsite manufacturers, Elliott and The McAvoy Group.

The partners have launched both a universal connection solution and a standardised structural frame for school buildings built offsite, plus an innovative open source app which enables the full spectrum of the community to get involved in the design of primary schools.

According to Sam Stacey, Challenge Director – Transforming Construction at UKRI, “This initiative has been a tremendous success – it has hit all of the targets for Transforming Construction. The project partners have demonstrated an unprecedented level of collaboration which we hope will inspire other forward-thinking projects to help innovate in construction and produce more efficient, sustainable and affordable buildings.”

Find the Seismic Consortium’s app at seismic-school-app.io.

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