Modular Classroom Buyers Guide
You need to read this MODULAR CLASSROOM BUYERS GUIDE if…
You need classroom or school building space.
You want fast and cost-effective construction.
You want to know more about modular school buildings.
Modular buildings are often a misunderstood concept, so this comprehensive modular classroom buyers guide explains everything you need to know. This information can help you evaluate and answer whether modular building construction is suitable for your project, and it will also give you an understanding of what to expect from start to completion.
Does modular building construction make sense for my project?
If your organization’s building space need falls into one of the following categories, then keep reading, because modular building construction might make sense for you:
- New or Growing Campus
- Temporary Swing Space During Renovation Projects
- Overcrowded School Buildings
What is the difference between modular classrooms and conventionally built classrooms?
Modular classrooms are constructed inside an off-site factory, so the site can be prepared at the same time. Conventional classroom construction requires all building activities to be performed consecutively because they are all performed on-site.
Modular classrooms are built significantly faster than conventional construction can build, and they are built to meet all applicable federal and state codes using typical building construction materials with which you are familiar.
Modular built classrooms create less campus disruption, because the building construction can be completed in up to 50% of the time it would take to build with conventional construction. There is also much less construction traffic since there is limited need for material deliveries to the site.
What is modular classroom construction?
What is a modular classroom building?
A completed modular classroom building is constructed off-site in a factory, rather than being built from the ground-up on-site. Modular building factories use the method of prefabricating a building in individual sections, or “modules” by using assembly-line techniques. By building the modular classroom structure off-site, this allows ample time for preparing the groundwork on site, simultaneously.
Modular Classrooms Are:
- Built in sections, or “modules”
- Are built off-site in a manufacturing facility
- Constructed using assembly-line methods
- Built with standard building materials
WATCH: Here is a look at the modular construction process in an off-site modular building factory.
Why are modular classrooms fabricated in sections?
Modular classrooms are built in sections because they need to be transported to the construction site by truck after they leave the factory. Constructing the classrooms in sections allows for delivery behind a truck as an “over-sized load”. Building in sections also allows for expansion and contraction of a modular classroom building just by adding or removing center sections of the building.
What are the differences between temporary and permanent modular classrooms?
Temporary modular classrooms are used as leased space, usually for a defined period of time. They are rented and returned when no longer needed. Modular classroom buildings can be delivered to a property and installed, then just as easily removed when necessary. Temporary modular classrooms are designed and engineered for relocation so they can be repurposed and reused several times throughout their lifespan.
This does not mean however, that because they are temporary that they are made of lesser quality. Temporary modular classroom buildings have a lifespan of between 20 and 30 years when maintained and properly cared for.
Temporary modular building foundations are specifically designed so the building modules can be easily disconnected and de-mounted, while the foundation itself is relatively simple to disassemble and remove.
Temporary modular buildings are most often built as V-B structures. (Construction Types – Definitions)
Permanent modular classrooms also use off-site construction- but are built for intended long term use. They are most often built as II-A, II-B, and V-B structures. Permanent modular classrooms can be built from not only wood framed structures, but also steel or concrete. When completed, the finished permanent classroom building looks just like that of a conventionally built structure.
Typically, permanent modular classrooms are produced with many upgrades. This often includes customized architectural features, as well as finishes that are specified by an architect. Permanent modular classrooms are installed and affixed to foundations that are engineered for long-term use. Additional features such as extensive storm water management systems, sidewalks, and landscaping often accompany these permanent modular classroom buildings.
What building materials are used in modular classroom construction?
Modular construction uses the same standard building methods and materials that are used in traditional construction. The options are seemingly endless when it comes to interior or exterior custom upgrade materials.
Materials that are used by factories to construct modular classrooms are purchased in bulk to keep costs low. They are also stored under roof, which protects them from inclement weather and possible theft.
What are modular buildings not? What are the weaknesses of modular classrooms?
Although few, modular construction does have its limitations. Roof height limitations keep modular classroom buildings from being practical solutions for building a gym, auditorium, or other high-ceiling facility. Over the road transportation of the modules requires compliance with roof height regulations, which creates inherent limitations.
Modular buildings are not pre-engineered steel buildings. Steel buildings are entirely different, from the way they are manufactured all the way through to the installation process. It is important to know the difference when looking to buy a pre-engineered steel building.
How long do modular classrooms last? What is the life expectancy of a modular classroom building?
Assuming proper maintenance, temporary modular classrooms can have a useful lifetime of between 20 and 30 years. The limit on their lifespan has to do with the fact that these classroom buildings are set up, disassembled, and relocated numerous times to different educational institutions throughout that time period.
Permanent modular classrooms have a similar useful life to that of conventionally built structures.
Are modular classroom buildings compliant with building codes?
Modular classroom buildings are designed to meet the IBC (International Building Code) and all other applicable federal and state building codes and regulations.
What type of foundations are modular classroom buildings set on?
A standard modular classroom building is set on a concrete pier foundation. These piers can be installed on a parking lot or plot of grass and rise typically 2-3’ above ground. For temporary structures, decks and ramps would be installed at the classroom’s entrance.
For permanent modular classroom structures, the modules can be set at grade level. This requires a full perimeter foundation wall, and interior concrete piers. While this foundation option is more expensive, it eliminates the need for decking to the exterior doors.
What other school campus buildings can modular construction be used to build?
Modular construction can be used to meet practically any building needs for both K-12 schools, technical schools, colleges and universities. However, if you need high ceilings for a gymnasium or other structure, then traditional construction will likely be your best solution. That being said, modular classroom buildings are often combined with site-built construction to maximize speed, where modular construction can be used.
A few examples of school buildings other than classrooms that construction can be used for:
- Faculty / Administrative Offices
- Medical Facilities
- Locker Rooms
- Press Boxes
- Technology Centers
What kind of modular classroom should I choose?
There is also the decision of multi-modular classrooms or standalone classrooms. Below we outline reasons for both, depending on your needs.
Option A: You should consider a large building for your school if:
- Your school is in an area that experiences extreme temperatures, especially cold.
- Your temporary classroom needs to accommodate a lot of students at once.
- You expect to use your temporary classroom for a long period of time.
- You prefer the look of one large building, as opposed to small classrooms spread across campus.
- You want to cover walkways or build a conditioned corridor to connect the temporary building to your main school building.
- You want to incorporate a cafeteria, offices, or other non-classroom-related areas within the classroom building.
Benefits of choosing a large temporary modular classroom building:
- Larger buildings take up less space than smaller buildings while still providing the same number of classrooms.
- Larger buildings require fewer decks, steps, and ramps than smaller buildings.
- Larger buildings offer enhanced security since students don’t have to go outside between classes. Instead, an interior corridor connects the classrooms.
- Students don’t have to leave the building to use the restroom since they’re typically included.
- Larger buildings offer simplified maintenance since maintaining a single building is easier than maintaining multiple buildings.
- Installation is easier because utilities and plumbing are run to one location, rather than multiple locations across campus.
- Larger buildings create a community experience because they come with common areas. These build relationships between students and teachers and provide a place for gatherings.
Option B: You should consider multiple, small buildings for your school if:
- Your school is located in a warm or temperate climate.
- You expect to add or phase out temporary classroom space slowly over time.
- You want to create an outdoor classroom space that connects several small classrooms together.
- Your school campus is small, so the classrooms have to be squeezed in where there’s space.
Benefits of leasing multiple small modular classroom buildings:
- They can be installed very quickly.
- They take up very little space.
- Temporary space can be phased in and out simply by adding or removing individual modular classrooms.
- Each classroom has three exterior walls, which creates the opportunity for lots of natural light.
- Lease terms and lengths tend to be more flexible with smaller buildings.
- Lease rates increase in size incrementally as classrooms are added, rather than all at once like with larger buildings. Curious about portable classroom costs? Lease rates for temporary modular classroom buildings generally run anywhere from $1 to $1.50 per square foot per month.
Why do people choose modular building construction for their schools?
The number one reason people choose to build with modular construction over traditional construction for their schools is due to the accelerated construction schedule.
Faster construction naturally means faster occupancy and less disruption to the students and faculty. The addition of cost effectiveness, reduced safety risks, and convenience are also the benefits of the off-site construction speed. People also like the fact that modular construction offers the flexible option of both temporary and permanent structures. This is just not an option with traditional construction.
Schools have a short window in the summer where construction can be performed and not inconvenience parents, faculty, staff, and students. A modular building can be built over the summer months, but a conventional building would not be able to be completed in the same short time-frame.
Here is what a modular construction schedule looks like in comparison with conventional site-built construction.
Faster occupancy and price are two major benefits of choosing modular construction. Both of these factors help schools when they face overcrowding concerns.
How do you know if your school is overcrowded? For one, a ratio of more than 20 students per teacher is considered undesirable. This is according to CEDS (Community & Environmental Defense Services). In fact, several U.S. states have laws that require a specific ratio so that overcrowding is eliminated altogether.
Common factors that cause overcrowding:
- Lack of infrastructure
- Closure of nearby schools
- District Consolidation
- Legislative Changes
- Surge in student enrollment
- Building closure from water damage, natural disasters, or aging
- Lack of funding
Overcrowded classrooms pose a problem. Subsequently, their facilities do too. Many times, overcrowding can affect lunch schedules, hinder learning, affect standardized testing, and more.
Problems that can arise from overcrowded schools
- Teacher-to-student ratios are too high
- Struggling students fall behind their classmates
- More noise disturbances exist in large classrooms
- Quality of learning decreases per student
- Less access to equipment or technology
- Lack of cafeteria space
- Overcrowding reduces the ability to focus
- Increase in chattiness between students
- Lower grades
One of the fastest, simplest solutions for overcrowded schools is leasing modular classroom space. Not only are there a variety of floor plans to choose from, but modular classrooms can be customized to match the look and feel of your existing facilities as well.
How much does a modular classroom building cost?
Sale prices for new V-B type standard temporary classroom buildings typically range between $50 and $100 per square foot. This does not include site-work, delivery, or installation. Custom modular classroom buildings have a much broader price range, from $100 to $300+ per square foot, because customization options are seemingly endless. Each modular classroom or building project has its own set of specifications, so it is important to understand that these ranges are for a general frame of reference.
Pricing beyond the classroom building could include site-work, foundations, delivery, installation, access systems, utility runs, and potentially much more.
The level of customization, structure type, and complexity is what drives the price of a custom educational building project. When looking to lease a standard modular classroom building, rates will generally run anywhere from $1 to $1.50 per square foot, per month. The lease term length and classroom size will be the primary drivers of your specific monthly rate.
Every job site and project is different, so pricing for your school or college campus can vary widely.
How long does it take to get a modular classroom building?
Every modular building project will vary, but generally the time frame from start to completion of construction is roughly 8-20 weeks. Traditional construction, for a similar project may take 6-12 months.
What are the reasons or benefits for leasing a modular classroom building?
Although they are “temporary” buildings, modular buildings are made with quality materials, and therefore built for longevity. There are 5 main benefits of leasing that sets it apart from other types of construction.
- No Ownership Hassles
Many schools and universities do not want to own temporary buildings, for operational and financial reasons. Leasing gives schools access to the space they need without the requirement of ownership. Modular buildings are installed when you need them, and then picked up when you are finished.
- No Borrowing
Leasing allows you to pay for the use of a temporary modular building without having to finance it through a lending institution. No borrowing means a faster timeline for you to get the space you need. Lease payments are lower than a financed purchase and your borrowing capacity is not impacted.
- No Major Repairs
Leasing a modular building typically means you are only liable for repair of damages, while wear and tear items are covered by the building dealer. Most often, big ticket items such as HVAC systems, roof, and building structure are not your responsibility. This gives you a peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to worry about any unexpected major repair costs.
- Eco Friendly
Leased buildings are able to be re-used multiple times throughout their life cycle. When your school is finished with the temporary modular building, it can be refreshed, re-purposed, and leased again by another organization.
- Cost Effective
There is no initial depreciation impact when you lease a brand-new building.
Sometimes it makes perfect sense to construct a permanent building structure, depending on the needs of the client. However, when schools are concerned with funding and looking for the smartest ways to budget- leasing becomes the ideal candidate.
What are the capabilities of modular school building construction?
In general, modular building construction has traditionally been used to create relocatable offices, portable classrooms, and other specialized temporary buildings. Within the past decade there have been significant advancements in the technology, design, and engineering of modular buildings.
The advancements in off-site modular construction has accelerated the opening of many new markets for permanent modular construction, also known as “PMC”. Beyond classrooms and offices, some modular companies are using the construction methodology to build multi-family housing, hotels, high-rises, banks, franchise restaurants, and much more.
Modular buildings can be as little as a few hundred square feet, or as large as tens of thousands of square feet depending on the project. Multi-story buildings can be built with modular construction and result in a finished product appearing no different than that of traditional construction. This also applies to educational buildings.
In fact, modular buildings are considered stronger than site-built construction, due to the fact that each section is built to stand alone and support itself. This is especially important as it is transported by truck to the job-site. Modular classrooms are safe, reliable, and crafted with the use of the highest-quality products under a stringent level of quality control.
What are the benefits of modular construction for my school?
One of the biggest benefits of temporary modular classrooms is their expedited timeline. These structures can be on-site and ready for occupancy in as little as 30 days from contract approval depending on permitting requirements; and they can easily be removed from your school property at the end of your lease term.
Having adequate space is essential to successfully running a school. These classroom buildings can be installed in just a few weeks, and provide a quick solution for a variety of problems, including overcrowding and damage from natural disasters. Temporary modular classrooms also offer short-term swing space for schools to keep faculty, staff, and students comfortable during renovation or expansion.
Leasing a temporary modular classroom provides schools with the swing space they need during renovations. They’re also an economical way to handle a sudden rise in enrollment. Overcrowding has many negative impacts on students, like increased bullying, traffic congestion during pick-up/drop-off, and decreased reading and math proficiencies. However, adding modular space mitigates these problems by providing students with the room they need to learn and grow.
Another temporary modular building benefit for schools is their affordability. Saving money is of the utmost importance for schools and leased temporary classroom buildings are one of the most economical options out there.
Temporary modular classrooms allow schools and universities to pay for large amounts of space as a monthly expense, rather than a capital expense. As a result, schools don’t have to raise tuition, and governments don’t have to raise taxes.
Financial benefits of leasing temporary classroom buildings.
- You don’t have to worry about handling big-ticket maintenance items
- You’re not affected by any property depreciation factors
- You’re not committed to a fixed location
- There are no long-term credit commitments
Educational institutions that often use temporary modular buildings.
- Public schools (primary and secondary)
- Private schools (primary and secondary)
- Charter schools
- Technical schools
- Colleges and universities
These educational institutions utilize modular buildings as science labs, cafeterias, libraries, press boxes, dormitories, restrooms, locker rooms, administrative spaces, and more.
What are the steps to get a modular classroom building?
These are the ten steps that make up the process of acquiring a modular classroom building, from beginning to completion.
- Property Identification
The site selected for the modular building is very important because it will have a direct impact on many other components of the process. When deciding on a location it is important to consider the grade (slope) and soil compaction. Chances are you already have a campus or existing school. When adding a new addition or a remote modular classroom, you will want to consider the site accessibility in addition to proximity of water, sewer, utilities, and existing structures.
Each of these considerations could have significant impact on the cost of your classroom project. Many of these mentioned factors can be controlled in advance by selecting the right piece of property or location. Furthermore, you will want to have a clear understanding of the municipality or local governing body and how easy or difficult they are to work with. The permitting process and inspections will have an impact on the project schedule, in some cases substantially.
Typically, schools that are looking to construct a custom permanent building might begin by contracting with an architect for design purposes. The growing trend is that the architects or project owners will then partner directly with a modular building dealer to perform a complete design-build project. Whichever route you decide to take will result in a high-quality modular building that you can be proud of. It will provide your school with all of the space it needs.
Custom modular classroom buildings are built to meet all of the applicable federal and state codes. They can also be tailored to meet the highest energy standards you desire.
- Formal Proposal
The formal proposal allows clients to see everything together before signing a contract. A typical proposal may include: Delineation of responsibilities, pricing, project schedule, terms, drawings, and building specifications.
- Permits and Approvals
In most cases, permits are obtained by the school/customer but can also be secured by the modular dealer, sometimes for an additional fee. This part of the process is where things may get bogged down. It is important to find out what your local officials require as early in the process as possible. The actual approval of the permit application can take significant time. This often depends on where your school building will be located.
There are as many different forms of contracts as there are for types of modular buildings. Typically, the form of contract is determined by the size and scope of the custom modular classroom project. Aside from monthly rental invoices, modular classroom projects are most often billed based on milestone achievements or by monthly percentage of project completion.
- Site Preparation
While the modular classroom building is being built at the off-site factory, crews work to prepare the job site in time for the classroom building’s delivery. Site preparation at your school can include surveying, demolition, excavation, foundation work, utility installation, and more.
- Plant Fabrication
The approved building design is typically provided by a modular building dealer, then given to a building factory for execution. The individual building sections are constructed in an assembly-line method. The support structure, plumbing, electric, data, mechanical equipment, duct-work, insulation, doors, windows, interior finishes, and exterior finishes are often all completed within the factory.
Once the classroom module(s) are completed in the factory, the individual building sections can be transported by truck in a predetermined order to the job site.
As the classroom module(s) arrive on site they are staged and prepared to be set in a predetermined order on the completed foundation system. The modular building sections are precisely situated on the foundation one at a time, next to each other, so they line up exactly.
The walls, ceilings, electrical, data, plumbing, and duct work are all positioned during fabrication, in order to line up exactly right on either side of the modules as they are installed. Connections are completed during installation at each mate line, which is the place where the modules meet up. The units are then seamed at each mate line, which involves attaching the exterior weather proofing and facade along with completing the interior floor, wall, and ceiling finishes.
When finishing out the modular classroom installation, external connections are made with utilities, water, sewer, alarm systems, and data lines as applicable. The unit is energized for power and the water is turned on. Access systems, which may include decks, steps, ramps, and sidewalks, are installed. Other work such as paving and striping, site restoration, and landscaping are performed at the tail end of the installation process.
A certificate of occupancy is issued by local authorizes after all required inspections have been completed and approvals given.
Now that you know the modular building process, there are a few items you will want to consider, but not necessarily have all the answers to. Knowing more answers now can be helpful when requesting a free quote for your building project.
How do I evaluate a modular building classroom dealer?
Most modular building dealers provide similar temporary classrooms for lease, including: classroom floor plans, interior and exterior finish selections, scope of work, and speed of both delivery and setup. Building price is often closely comparable too. That being said, there are three areas you will want to look at beyond pricing. This is to ensure you are signing a contract with both a reliable and client-oriented modular building dealer.
Major differences between modular building dealers appear when you compare:
- Financial stability
- Team experience
- Individualized service from beginning to end
You may have seen in the news over the past year that there have been some prominent modular building companies facing significant financial challenges, including filings for bankruptcy protection. When signing a contract for a lease with a modular building dealer, you want to make sure they can provide the building you need and service you expect. If financial challenges are the focus of the modular building dealer, consider how that may impact your experience as their client. Make sure you get the best financing options available by working with a reliable and financially stable modular building dealer.
Leasing a temporary office or classroom building is not rocket science, but an experienced sales and project team will provide you with extremely useful guidance and insight. Furthermore, a skilled team will help your project go smoothly, because they are better equipped to identify and address pitfalls, before they become problems. The comprehensive nature of the proposal you receive, will be another good indicator regarding the team’s experience, and what type of service you can expect.
Individualized Service from Beginning to End
As a first impression, no one likes to call a toll-free number and speak with someone that is reading from a script. A quality modular building dealer will take the time necessary to understand your particular space need and provide a solution that is both efficient and cost effective.
Responsiveness, professionalism, and comprehensive communication are all indicators that you are working with a quality modular building dealer. A company’s reputation is built by what others say about the business, so take the time to see if they have testimonials about their products and services. Don’t ignore your initial impression of a modular building dealer, as it is likely what you can expect to experience throughout your time working with them.
Read client testimonials
It All Comes Down to This
The bottom line is that while pricing is very important, the building quality and a thorough evaluation of the company you will be working with is equally so. There are many good educational modular building dealers throughout the United Sates, but you will find that some stand above the rest.