Designing a Better Modular Classroom: Q&A with Vanguard Modular Design | Build Team
From single classrooms to multi-classroom spaces, from libraries to computer labs, from high speed data to high security measures, from green building efforts to saving your school a little bit of “green,” the modular building industry is serving public, private and charter schools with modular classrooms that are more advanced than ever before.
Barbara Bieganski, Director of Modular Engineering at Vanguard Modular, explains how her Design | Build team is working to design a better modular classroom.
Can you explain more in depth about what the Design | Build process means?
This is the process where the modular dealer is instrumental in working with the customer on the design of the project, pricing, and execution through completion. The dealer works with architects, engineers or other professionals in the design phase, depending on the scope of the project. During pricing, the dealer negotiates with the factories capable of producing the components for the building and other trades that will complete the execution phase. Execution brings the project to completion with the dealer supervising all the trades involved.
When a school approaches a builder for a modular classroom project, what challenges are they looking to solve? Overcrowding? Temporary space during a remodel?
All of the above! Plus, they could be looking at updating their building with handicap accessibility, heating and air conditioning, or computer labs that their existing buildings cannot support. Occasionally their existing building is beyond repair and the updates needed are not cost effective. Budget can also be a challenge. Often a school system cannot get the capital funding needed to build a new building, but they can rent space, which is why they turn to modular.
When it comes to designing a modular classroom what kind of information do you need the client to supply?
These are the questions we usually start with:
- What age group are the occupants?
- How many students will occupy a room?
- Is there a need for additional restrooms?
- What size and configuration is the site and existing utilities?
- Is this a lease or are they purchasing the building?
What makes designing a classroom different from other modular projects?
Life safety considerations are different for classrooms than other types of buildings. The building code drives construction of the building and how it operates in general. The rest of the design is driven by customer preference or dealer stock.
Modular classrooms, and modular in general, have received mixed reviews in the past. What advancements have been made in modular construction that result in classrooms that are equal to traditionally built spaces?
Commercial modular buildings are built to the same building codes, with the same materials as any construction. The foundations for the buildings are designed for permanent structures even if the building is a lease. The building meets or exceeds the requirements for wind, snow and seismic loading of the site.
The hardest part is educating people so that they understand that modular classrooms are not built to a lesser standard of building codes like a residential mobile home is. Yes, they travel down the road behind a toter or on a flatbed truck, but the comparison ends there. Commercial modular buildings are built from prints with a Professional Engineer or Architect’s seal. Mobile homes do not have to have these.
The modular timeline is much shorter than building with traditional construction. Can a school essentially run an entire project over the course of a summer break?
Yes. Especially if a school can utilize a building that is already built and ready to lease or purchase.
How is your process different when a school chooses a temporary classroom versus building a permanent classroom?
From an engineering standpoint, the biggest difference may be in the foundation. A customer with a permanent building can choose a more expensive foundation type than what would be necessary for a temporary classroom. All other components are available interchangeably for permanent and temporary installations. Customers opting for permanent installations have choices to customize their building. This would include all mechanical aspects, doors, windows colors, finishes etc.
A lot of schools are focused on keeping current with the latest technology in their classrooms. What technology can be incorporated into a modular classroom?
In a new classroom, all types of technology can be incorporated. We have installed computer labs, white boards/ smart boards, projectors, science laboratories, buildings with sprinklers throughout, and many options needed for greener classrooms like light tunnels and specialized finishes.
How difficult is it to ensure a modular classroom fits into the design and aesthetics of the school’s campus?
New, permanent construction is not difficult as the building exterior and aesthetics can be designed to coordinate with the campus. Leased buildings vary greatly as to what is available per the school budget that can be incorporated in the contract.