When we think about prefabricated buildings in an education context, most Australian’s minds will go straight to portables – the decades old solution for schools running out of classrooms. However, modular construction has gained significant attention in recent years as a viable solution to the growing demand for educational facilities, and the solution looks vastly different from portables. Its ability to provide quick and cost-effective structures has made it an attractive option for schools struggling with limited budgets and tight timelines. In this article, we will explore the six advantages of modular construction in education.
- Built to last
A common misconception about modular construction is that the buildings are of inferior quality compared to traditional construction. However, that notion is outdated and fails to consider the advancements made in the modular construction industry. Modern modular buildings in Australia are constructed using high-quality materials and adhere to the same building codes and regulations as traditional structures. They undergo rigorous testing and inspections to ensure durability and structural integrity, making them just as reliable and long-lasting as conventionally built schools.
- Thinking outside the box
Another misconception is that modular construction limits the design and customisation options available to schools. On the contrary, modular construction offers significant flexibility in design and layout, catering to the specific needs of Australian schools. Modules can be easily combined and configured to create unique learning environments suitable for the diverse educational requirements of students. From classrooms to administrative offices, libraries, laboratories, and recreational spaces, modular construction can be customised to suit the context. Wenona Girls School in North Sydney, New South Wales, faced a challenge that most inner-city schools experience, requiring expansion while being bound by residential buildings and thus limited to grow only within the original campus grounds. To address this, they adopted vertical learning spaces – the four levels include 14 learning spaces, three covered outdoor learning spaces (COLAs), staff amenities, a lift and stairs. Manufactured in just 12 weeks, all 20 modules were installed over a single weekend, and after only weeks of minimal works, the new building was ready for occupation.
- Powering education
A comfortable and safe physical environment is essential for effective learning. This includes well-maintained classrooms with appropriate lighting, ventilation, and temperature control. Prefabricated modules can integrate advanced insulation, efficient HVAC systems, and renewable energy technologies such as solar panels. Gone are the days of the crazy-hot-in-summer/freezing-cold-in-winter ‘portables’ of previous generations. High-performing acoustic panelling and double-glazed windows are used in forward-thinking volumetric modules, standard in any Modscape building. According to a study conducted by the Modular Building Institute, modular construction can reduce energy consumption by up to 67% compared to traditional construction methods. In addition, modular construction generates less construction waste, promoting a greener approach to building schools in Australia.
- Rapid solutions
One of the primary advantages of modular construction is its ability to expedite the construction timeline, which is particularly beneficial in addressing urgent educational needs. According to a report by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy, and Resources, modular construction projects can be completed up to 50% faster compared to traditional construction methods. This efficiency is critical for Australian schools facing overcrowded classrooms or rapid population growth, ensuring that students have access to safe and functional learning spaces in a timely manner. In just over 12 months, the design and construction of Jordan Springs Primary School was completed – a record for any Schools Infrastructure New South Wales (SINSW) project. Comprised of 46 modules, the school includes 27 internal learning spaces, six covered outdoor learning spaces (COLAs), a library, learning auditorium, administration spaces, a school hall and plenty of landscaped areas for students to play in.
- Budget friendly buildings
Modular construction provides a cost-effective solution for schools. According to a research report published by McKinsey & Company, modular construction projects can reduce construction costs by up to 20%. The streamlined manufacturing process, reduced labour requirements, and shortened construction schedules contribute to overall project savings. Additionally, the energy efficiency of modular buildings results in significant operational cost savings over the lifespan of the school.
- Seamless learning
Modular construction was adopted as the preferred delivery methodology for Epping West Public School in New South Wales to reduce the impact on the existing school operations and wider community. While Hansen and Yuncken completed required early works, Modscape constructed the first 39 modules for building S in 14 weeks, delivering the modules over two consecutive weekends. Once completed the staff and students happily moved into Building S before an existing building was demolished and the remaining 12 modules of building T were manufactured and installed. With minimal disruption to the existing schools’ operations, staff and students were able to remain teaching and working while construction was undertaken.
With advancements in design, construction techniques, and quality control, modular buildings can offer durable, customisable, and energy-efficient educational spaces. The speed of construction, cost-effectiveness, and ability to address specific Australian challenges such as extreme weather conditions, remote communities, and flood-prone areas make modular construction a viable option for schools. By embracing the potential of modular construction, educational institutions in Australia can meet the demands of growing student populations and provide high-quality learning environments for generations to come.