Campus construction affects various members of a community, each having a vested interest in the adjustments made to a school. School administrators seeking to comply with Florida-established limits on core class enrollment have a handful of options at their disposal: portable trailers, precast concrete modular classrooms, and site-built construction.
When considering the options, keep in mind some of the aspects of school life with which principals and parents are most concerned:
Budgeting and Funding
Principals and parents are aware that without funding, extra classrooms exist only on paper—so finding a solution that is realistic from a financial perspective is key.
While portable trailers are the cheapest solution in the short-term, they are not well-suited for long-term use. Having to replace them due to normal wear and tear can negate any initial savings.
Precast concrete modular classrooms are a larger upfront investment, but can end up being more economical in the long run. Because precast concrete classrooms are classified as Type IIB, the already existing funds for portables is available. The buildings are low maintenance and built to last for upwards of 50 years.
Traditional construction is by far the most expensive solution. In addition to general costs, site-built construction can include unexpected professional fees (architect and/or engineering, for instance).
The safety of students and staff is of utmost concern when weighing construction solutions, and is at the forefront of parents’ minds. Classroom building safety can vary greatly, and is largely determined by the way a structure is designed and built. Precast concrete modular classrooms, for instance, can be built with bullet-resistant windows and doors with electronic interior locks. State-approved, third-party engineers rigorously inspect every aspect of the buildings in the precast concrete plant to ensure conformance to the engineering during production. Commenting on the construction of precast concrete buildings at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, one Facilities Director was struck by the sense of stability and security and noted, “This feels like a bomb shelter!”
By contrast, the conformity of site-built construction to quality standards depends upon approvals by building code compliance officers and construction inspectors who are making site visits to approve the means and methods of construction against the plans themselves to ensure performance.
These reviews and inspections may be conducted more casually or even in a drive-by fashion, especially as the construction industry shows steady growth through 2019 and 2020. Building code compliance officers or construction inspectors simply may not have enough time in a day. Quality control can also be a challenge, as certain construction and masonry methods may vary in the field.
In Florida, the school year begins at the peak of hurricane season, so classroom buildings need to be able to withstand severe weather events. Portable trailers lack the strength and durability of other construction options and, depending on school policy, are often evacuated during inclement weather for the safety of students.
Precast concrete modular classrooms can be designed to have a higher wind load capacity, making them a safer alternative. Precast concrete modular classrooms in active use have already successfully performed under severe conditions.
Moisture Intrusion – Mold & Mildew
Any standing, roofed structure needs to be monitored for moisture, mold, and mildew on a regular basis in order to maintain a healthy learning environment. Children and those with allergies or asthma are particularly susceptible to mold or mildew triggered health conditions, so it’s imperative for school buildings to be moisture resistant.
Portable trailers are prone to moisture and water intrusion from beneath the structure. With any classroom building, especially in Florida, it’s important to have a properly designed vapor barrier to reduce the likelihood of moisture-related issues. Site-built construction and precast concrete classrooms are advantageous over portable trailers in this regard, as they sit on grade and can be fully weather proofed with relatively simple adjustments to the building design.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance
Site-built construction and precast concrete modular classrooms can be designed from the start to meet Florida ADA compliance standards. Site-built new construction can allow a school to continue the use of existing accommodations (for example, the same main entrance) or extend modifications to new additions. As an alternative, precast concrete modular classrooms are built on grade, making them wheelchair-accessible without having to add ramps, and have the option of including ADA-compliant interior restrooms.
Portable trailers, however, sit roughly three feet above grade and ADA modifications tend to be upgrades rather than standard offerings. Making a portable trailer ADA compliant can be done, but is typically more difficult and expensive.
Parents and administrators alike work hard to create a positive atmosphere where students feel supported and encouraged. There is a sense of pride associated with being a representative of the school community, and the physical appearance of the campus should reflect that pride. Along the same lines, parents often choose their family home based upon the ratings of the school district, and want their children to be educated in buildings that are in keeping with the school’s overall design.
Summary: School Life and Community Considerations
Portable trailers do little to enhance a campus’s image. As a cheaper fix, they do not often fit in with a school’s design or aesthetics, and their lack of durability can be concerning for parents.
Traditional site-built construction can present a durable, lasting solution, but the long construction time comes with dirt, noise, and disruption.
Precast concrete modular classrooms can be custom designed to match existing facilities without the longer timeline that comes with of site-built construction.
When deciding how to address school overpopulation through additional classroom construction, consider the opinions and interests of community members and investigate your alternatives. What have other districts done to increase their classroom capacity, and what were the advantages and drawbacks of their methods? Having all the facts and seeking real world feedback is the first step in making the choice that best fits your community.
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Photo credit (thunderstorm): Eric Schmuttenmaer