There is a wide array of factors to consider when evaluating the economic viability of school construction options. Whether the expense is measured by cost per student station or gross square feet, three key areas to look at include:
- life-cycle costs
- maintenance costs
Not every classroom construction option has the same lifespan. A 2016 state estimate asserts that most school buildings in Florida have an expected life-cycle of 50 years—and are on average, about 30 years old. When it comes time to replace or expand existing facilities, budgeting favors modular solutions, as they are initially 36 to 77% of the cost of traditional site-built construction. "Modular noncombustible facilities," like precast concrete modular classrooms are built to last upwards of 50 years, much longer than their portable trailer counterparts.
Precast concrete modular classrooms and site-built construction are the most durable classroom expansion options. Of the two, site-built construction is the more costly option and takes much longer to get to completion (due to the inherent longer timelines of traditional construction and funding delays), which means that temporary space must be funded as well.
Precast concrete modular classrooms are built to last. They are produced in NPCA/PCI Certified Plants, therefore they can be permitted as permanent structures. Precast classrooms are built with minimum 6000 psi concrete and have post tensioned roofs and floors. In addition, construction times are minimal, eliminating the need for interim plans for housing the student body.
By contrast, portable trailers have traditionally been intended to be used as temporary stopgaps. Educational associations like the NJEA caution against the use of even perfectly maintained portable trailers for more than their 20-year lifespan. In practice, portable trailers are very often used past this timeframe on the "just a little longer" principle—which can be unsafe. But to replace these buildings regularly can be financially unfeasible and contributes to even more classroom disruption.
When budgeting for school expansion it's important to look at short- and long-term economic factors. Careful research and a clear understanding of your school's needs and resources can go a long way towards finding the classroom construction solution that is right for you.