Comparing Construction Solutions for Classroom Crowding in Florida

Portable trailers vs. precast concrete modular classrooms vs. traditional site-built construction

School population and increasing class sizes have been issues in Florida for over two decades. Enrollment numbers increase each year, with nearly 17,000 new students entering the system in the 2019-2020 academic year.

With lawmakers looking to reduce class size and the state's current legislation limiting the number of students per class, schools are looking for compliant classroom construction solutions.

To stay within the law's class size requirements, the increasing school population equates to a need for more classrooms, and thus construction. The three most popular construction options to alleviate classroom crowding while providing a positive learning environment are:

  • Portable trailers
  • Precast concrete modular classroom buildings
  • Traditional site-built construction

Let's weigh these classroom construction options in more detail:

Portable Trailers

Portable trailers are an economical quick fix for schools pressured to find short-term solutions. Pricing tends to be lower than that of precast concrete modular or site-built classrooms. Outside of minimal site prep, these portable classrooms require little to no construction effort, so installation is relatively straightforward and budget friendly.

Portable trailers can potentially be used as a stopgap while more permanent structures are put into place, but problems can arise when their short-term intended purpose is circumvented and they become more permanent fixtures.

Portable trailers lack durability and security, and their projected life span does not stack up to that of precast concrete or site built construction. They may need to be evacuated during inclement weather, rendering them a less suitable option for schools in areas where weather conditions can be severe. Portable trailers also cannot be adequately secured in lockdown scenarios.

Aesthetically, portable trailers are unpopular and hinder the overall look of a campus. A district can build a beautiful, architecturally designed school, and then add portable trailers to combat the issue of overcrowding. The portable trailers are often hidden behind the building, as the cheap look contrasts sharply against the rest of the campus.

Parents have a vested interest in their childrens' assigned schools, and are often frustrated when their child is taught in a high caliber school's portable trailers.

Precast Concrete Modular Classroom Buildings

Precast concrete modular classrooms offer some real advantages over portable trailers, especially when it comes to security. Precast concrete is both bullet and weather resistant, so in the event of a lockdown, students may not need to be transferred to another location.

Doors and windows can be modified for security to be bullet resistant, and both can be equipped with interior locks that can be controlled electronically. Also, because precast concrete modular buildings are built on grade, classrooms are fully wheelchair accessible.

They can be engineered to a client's request and can meet or exceed wind load requirements in order to withstand severe storm events—they have been designed and produced to withstand wind loads of 220 mph.

Regarding design and aesthetics, precast concrete modular classrooms are completely customizable. Using formliners, a producer can provide a myriad of architectural choices so buildings blend into the campus' colors and finishes, enhancing the aesthetics of the existing school. The choices for layout are endless, and as an example can include restrooms, science labs, or offices. The precast concrete exterior is durable, sustainable, and low maintenance. If needed, the buildings can be moved with minimal site impact.

Impact on the campus and students is also an important consideration. Precast concrete modular classrooms are produced in a manufacturing facility and assembled on site, which greatly reduces campus disruption. Because the number of construction personnel and required time on site is minimized, installation can often be coordinated to take place over school breaks.

Though this option appears at face-value to be more expensive than portable trailers, precast concrete classroom buildings offer more long-term value. Like portable trailers, these buildings have the advantage of being eligible for Florida's Type IIB Modular Building funding. They are far less expensive than site-built construction, which comes with a host of professional fees (architecture, engineering, etc.) before the first brick can be laid. Most precast modular concrete classrooms are pre-engineered, resulting in considerable savings for schools and communities.

For more information on how precast concrete modular classrooms could be a solution for your school district, contact us for more details.

Traditional Site-Built Construction

Like precast concrete modular classrooms, traditional site-built additions offer a more permanent solution to classroom crowding. A site-built wing or structure can present a high-quality connection with original construction, which is advantageous from a safety and security perspective.

The drawbacks in this case are time, money and political considerations. Site-built construction requires a major funding commitment, and therefore extensive discussions with many different parties.

Board meetings, consults with outside professionals, and the path to approval adds to the actual construction timeline.

Once construction begins, a site-built addition could take a year or more for completion. During this time, parts of the existing facility may be temporarily unusable and the school may be out of compliance with state regulations. Completing a project of this magnitude during the approximate 75 days of summer break may be unachievable, meaning the building process will potentially disrupt the learning environment.

By contrast, precast modular concrete classrooms meet all building codes including SREF. They also are DBPR approved and inspected prior to putting them into place, and are issued an insignia. This confirms for the local inspectors that the building was built in conformance to the approved engineering, making the approval process as quick and simple as adding a portable trailer.

Classroom Crowding: Key Questions

There is no one-fits-all solution for addressing the issue of classroom crowding. School administrators should be sure they have the answer to two questions before making any major decisions.

  • Have we considered each of the construction solutions available to us?
  • Do we have a plan to minimize the disruption to our students and faculty?

If you and your administration can say 'yes' to these questions, you're ready to get started.

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