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Green Issues and Modular Buildings

posted: 15th Apr 2009

Jackie Maginnis, chief executive of The Modular and Portable Building Association, looks at temporary classroom accommodation – with a permanent slant.

'Off Site Construction', 'Build Off site', 'sustainability', and 'renewable energy' are all fashionable buzz key words that seem to be everywhere we go today.

Not for the modular and portable building industry, though, these are all familiar phrases that we have been using for many years; buildings produced in these modern times tick all the boxes.

The original concept was basic, cheap and cheerful, and useful to help out when funds were low and budget restraints in place.

The good news for the industry, and in turn the education sector, is that this is no longer the case; projects for modular construction are becoming more common as the market of modular buildings has changed. Central to this trend has also been the slow dawning realisation that modular construction does not necessarily result in buildings of a temporary nature. Today's modular buildings are constructed to extremely high standards in factory controlled conditions. Most are steel framed and have a design life of 50 years. In all probability they will last longer than that – longer in fact, than some, so-called permanent buildings constructed in traditional materials.

Clients are becoming increasingly aware of this. Why pay more, when you can have a cost effective modular one in a shorter time scale. The quality is as high and it will last as long.

Because of these facts we find that as the buildings are no longer seen as temporary, stopgap measure it has been worth investing more in their design.

Raising Standards

With the fast choice of cladding for modular construction, which ironically is a traditional brick wall, not only is it the choice to be permanent but to look traditional also. Planners too are becoming more aware of how flexible modular buildings can be when it comes to aesthetics – they are also playing their part in raising the standards of external appearance.

New buildings, for example, can now have pitched, tiled roof, brick walls with brickwork style that is sympathetic to the original structure or structures in the required area. This could apply to offices, schools, hospitals – the list is limitless. Again, with the suppliers appreciating the need, we are now in a position to provide windows and doors to match.

Economies of scale also play a part in the benefits generated by assembly line production passed on to the client, as a general rule modular construction is sold on the basis that customers can have their buildings quicker than if being provided by a standard building contractor.

Upgrading Design

There is another use for those economies of scale, and that is to use them to upgrade the design and specification of the building concerned. So when faced with a budget, instead of undercutting it, on some projects it pays to invest every penny in the building of outstanding quality and design.

It is noticeable how over the years we as an industry have played an active role in the education sector. With the government drive to invest in these areas the industry looks to play a large part in contributing towards the requirements.

State of the art modular buildings are all around us. Today this happens with people unaware that they are no longer built with traditional methods.

Classroom projects are very much a part of the industry's on going business in a temporary or permanent solution and this also contributes a large part of recycle and refurbishment requirements that we have to consider for our future environment.

Fast track solutions have become increasingly more in demand over the years alongside the considerations that we need to make on reducing waste. With buildings manufactured in a controlled factory our industry has the opportunity to take control of both of these aspects and able to prove its results.

It is a well known fact in our industry sector, however not well publicised, that the use of preowned modular buildings is the most environmental friendly method of construction and a highly sustainable alternative to new build and to the demolition and disposal of buildings in landfill sites. Pre-owned modular buildings generate less than 10 per cent of the carbon omissions and use less than 3 per cent of the energy during construction compared to a newly manufactured building of the equivalent size.

We talk continuously about sustainable solutions in these current times about what better example with modular buildings that are relocated – the embodied energy in them is preserved.

With the assistance of members we have examples of specific case studies that will help to prove our achievements in this expanding market place.

Wernick Hire Ltd supplied 44 temporary classrooms to ten of the worst affected schools ruined by the flash floods that swept through Hull in June 2007. One school received a 24 metre x 12 metre hall delivered in modular sections and others required temporary toilet facilities. Briefed on 6 August, Wernick Hire promised to meet a 3 September completion date.

Minimising Disruption

At the height of the emergency 30,000 Hull school children in 88 schools had their education interrupted in some way. Schools Secretary Ed Balls stated at the beginning of the flood emergency that his priority was to ensure that "every child and young person can be back in school by September". Wernick Hire worked day and night so those children could be back in class on time for the new school year.

To meet Hull's emergency accommodation requirements Wernick was able to draw on their extensive stocks held in 28 depots around Britain. The 3,500 square metres of modular accommodation space was delivered as 140 separate units to primary, secondary and special needs schools on time.

Recycled & Refurbished Buildings

Foremans Relocatable Building Systems, the UK's largest supplier of pre-owned modular buildings, has completed construction of a new extension at Harehills Primary School – its ninth building project for Leeds City Council.

The scheme for Education Leeds was delivered in two phases to meet the school's accommodation requirements. It provides additional 210 places at the school, bringing the total capacity to 630 pupils to meet the growing population in the area.

The two-storey modular building was fully refurbished and fitted out to accommodate nine general classrooms and one IT suite, toilets and a lift. It has been partially clad in timber to help integrate it with the surrounding residential area and both phases were craned into position during school holidays to minimise any disruption to teaching.

Commenting on the project, Derek Vest, education officer at Education Leeds, said: "Foremans only supplies quality pre-owned modular buildings, such as Portakabin and Yorkon products, which are tried and tested. And because the modules are fully refurbished, it is very difficult to tell the finished building from new.

"The approach gives us the quality of accommodation we need for schools in the area and to a tight budget. Other benefits include reduced construction time, less disruption to teaching, and because the buildings we use are recycled, it is very sustainable. This type of construction also lends itself to constrained sites such as Harehills, where there is little space for heavy plant, equipment and storage of building materials."

The examples shown are two of many cases that members of the modular and portable building industry can and do provide and we would recommend that you investigate the MPBA website on www.mpba.biz to see the companies that will assist in achieving the best solutions for the future.

Article by Jackie Maginnis, Published in Education Business www.educationbusinessuk.com