Everybody has his experiences with cold, dark and sterile class rooms. But future generations won’t have the same classrooms without character.
Altona Primary School in Melbourne’s South West is part of Victoria’s Permanent Modular School Buildings Program. The school’s new $880,000 library is full of natural light, is spacious, but more importantly is cozy and comfortable. The unique shape, the bright colors and the comforting timber invites people in. This is only one example of modular school buildings. There are more to come.
The Permanent Modular School Buildings Program was created in order to replace old school buildings, filled with asbestos with new prefab ones. Victoria is the champion of modular schools. Until now, 50 buildings of 47 schools received funding. 15 have been remodeled and rest of 35 will be completed by June 2019.
But Victoria is not the only one making an effort. In 2017 NSW asked for easy to build, versatile, prefab classrooms. The building sector obliged and came up with a variety of construction plans using different materials.
Nick Strongman, CEO of construction project management and consultancy firm Sensum is one of the major builders in Victoria’s Permanent Modular School Buildings Program. He says that prefab buildings are not very different from the classical ones, because the industry has evolved.
“Everyone can relate to those portable classrooms that the majority of Australians attended school in,” he said. Strongman thinks that a challenge is to keep people associating the new buildings with the old portable ones. “(But) In the last 10 years, there has been a shift in the way that industry has responded to innovate and to deliver projects which are more suited to 21st century learning,” Strongman continued.
Strongman also notes the amount of effort Sensum put into these buildings in order to offer the same quality as the in-situ construction. They are working with Melbourne University to test the living conditions in these buildings. Furthermore, the classrooms will come with a building management system, which means that they have led lighting which will coordinate with the level of natural light in the classroom, the air conditioning will shut down when the classrooms are empty and many other perks.
There are also other benefits to building modular classrooms. They are easier to build, as they require less on-site labor and they are less disruptive than the construction of traditional classrooms. A traditional construction might take 18 months to finish, while a prefab one only takes six to eight weeks, as Strongman notes. According to Strongman the use of prefabrication should be identified in the design part of the project, so it gives contractors and consultants the opportunity to create a plan. If the modules re not specified to the optimal size, the construction can become more expensive. By identifying the type of prefab from early stages of the development, the construction will be more efficient.
Regardless of the advantages of prefab constructions, there are still challenges, Strongman says. Prefabrication is new, therefore it is not the go-to material for agencies and some think it is more risky when it comes to off-site construction, than in-situ buildings. There are also issues with standard procedures in contracts and procurement. Issues regarding insurance and the payment for materials located offsite have arisen.
Nevertheless, the lack of disruption and the minimum noise during construction are the arguments that win the school councils and principals. Therefore, the use of prefabrication for school buildings is growing in Australia.