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New Standard in High-Performing Modular Classrooms for Swing Space and Permanent Additions

By Glenn Cort posted 12-07-2012 10:52 AM


As you may know, Perkins+Will, an integrated design firm serving clients from twenty-three offices around the world has teamed with Triumph Modular Inc., a Northeastern US provider of high-quality relocatable and permanent modular buildings. Their intent is to offer Sprout Space™, a modular classroom designed to compete afford-ably with more traditional “modular classrooms” and school buildings. Sprout Space can be ganged together to create a school solution that will compete particularly well where schools have a 3 to 5 year need for additional space, or if uncertainty exists in the longer term planning process. Much of the preconstruction planning process has been done, the buildings will be installed by Triumph Modular in the Northeastern part of the United States, and a collaboration is underway with a national team of fabricators and modular contractors to enable owners, school districts and charter operators across the country to take a look at this process as a potential solution to an often complex set of facility concerns.

The cost benefit “tipping point” between “barely legal” temporary trailers and Sprout Space is starting to make sense, first because the designers and fabricators collaborated to wring excess costs from the final prototype, second because building codes are increasing the costs of the cheapest form of “trailers” and third, the lowest cost solutions are proving too costly both in terms of inefficiency, and what they say about how we educate our youth.

In 2004, Triumph Modular launched a campaign to be the first modular company in the country to produce a LEED® “level”, green portable classroom, winning multiple awards and recognition for changing the perception of what a modular classroom should or can be. Since then, Triumph has collaborated on numerous green modular classrooms, including a permanent 13,000 SF early childcare center in North Andover, Massachusetts; a 6,000 SF addition at the Oak Hill Middle School in Newton, Massachusetts; of permanent design but capable of re location, and a 5,800 SF child care center at Harvard University, which won a award from the USGBC Mass Chapter in 2010 for its contribution to sustainable design and construction practices. Triumph’s innovative project in Needham, MA in the summer of 2011, a 36,000 SF school that exceeded the community’s expectations for a temporary building, won first place honors nationally in the Green Education category as well as “Best of Show” award at the Modular Building Institutes ( national awards ceremony held in Orlando in April of this year.

The need for configurable solutions
Schools, both private and public often face challenges, including budget shortfalls, outdated facilities and population fluctuations. These difficulties sometimes force them into less than optimal building solutions. The basic requirements for a classroom include: natural daylight, good indoor air quality, adequate space, proper temperature control, and good acoustics. The challenge inspired Perkins+Will, a leader in education design to give schools an alternative through their award winning design.

Perkins+Will partnered with DeKalb County Schools to win an international award in the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Best Re-locatable Classroom design competition, which was hosted by Architecture for Humanity. This worldwide initiative invited the architecture, design and engineering communities to collaborate directly with students and teachers to rethink the classroom of the future. Designers entering the competition were given a simple mandate: collaborate with real students in real schools in their community to develop real solutions. The winning design was the genesis for Sprout Space.

Perkin + Will recognized the severity of the problem, that too many schools think about portable “trailers” as an easy and quick fix. The challenge the modular community faces is to prove that a better design and healthier building is not out of reach price wise, even for short term swing space. A partnership between thought leaders in education design and modular practices was borne.

Sprout Space Modular Classrooms
The goal of any classroom is to have inspired teachers instructing engaged students who are learning in a healthy and productive environment. Sprout Space is the first high performance modular classroom designed by school design experts, and it incorporates unique features including:

• Healthy Learning Environments: Sprout Space was designed with children’s health and various learning styles in mind. Built from low-emitting materials, these classrooms meet the highest indoor air quality standards. A healthy learning environment equals fewer sick days, higher test scores, and happier students.

• Flexible Learning Environments: Sprout Space is very flexible. It is well-suited for various teaching styles, seating configurations, and outdoor learning opportunities. Each classroom opens up to the outdoors through large bi-fold doors. This encourages experiential learning and complements and a variety of teaching methods.

• Sustainable Learning Environments: Our design incorporates ample natural daylight, which has been proven to increase test scores and retention rates with the added benefit of significantly lower utility costs. Numerous design features such as integrated rainwater collection, overhanging eaves, and sustainable materials make Sprout Space an excellent example of passive and active green building strategies. The materials that we use include FSC-certified wood, high-reflective roofing, and bio-based insulation and flooring.

Sprout Spaces are pre-engineered, built in a factory and delivered on site. Constructing the buildings in a controlled environment has many advantages over building them on site such as: reducing cost, reducing construction time by up to 50%, less construction waste, a longer building life-cycle, and the elimination of mold growth during construction.

About Perkins+Will Established in 1935, Perkins+Will is an integrated design firm serving clients from twenty-three offices around the world. The firm practices architecture, interiors, branded environments, planning + strategies and urban design for clients in the aviation + transit, corporate + commercial + civic, healthcare, higher education, K-12 education, and science + technology markets. Perkins+Will routinely ranks among the world’s top design firms and has received hundreds of awards, including the prestigious American Institute of Architects’ “Firm of the Year Award.” With more LEED® Accredited Professionals than any firm in North America, Perkins+Will is recognized as the preeminent sustainable design firm in the country and recently rated the #1 Green Design firm in the country by Building Design + Construction Magazine. Perkins+Will was the first multi-office company to commit to the 2030 Challenge, in which the firm has pledged that all of our projects will be designed for carbon neutrality by the year 2030. About Triumph Modular Incorporated Formed in 1981, Triumph Modular Incorporated of Littleton, Massachusetts is a long trusted source for leasing temporary space and today is a specialty contractor of custom permanent commercial modular buildings. Triumph provides all types of building space, from relocatable to complex multi-story permanent modular buildings. Learn about the game changing innovations in education and classroom planning at
1 comment



12-08-2012 05:43 PM

I used to have a framed newspaper clipping in my office announcing the installation of two singlewide trailers to be used as “temporary” classrooms in the Winston Salem/Forsyth County school district. The caption read, “District officials state that use of the trailers will relieve overcrowding and a need for additional units is not anticipated”. Years later, the situation had changed dramatically as I found myself struggling to take care of more than a hundred units in Winston Salem as the school systems Director of Maintenance.
Modular classrooms are an indispensable tool for most school districts, primarily as a short-term solution for dealing with overcrowding. I appreciate the efforts by Perkins and Will, as well as other companies involved in the design and construction of modulars and hope that along with sustainable design, there will be consideration made for increased durability. The idea that modular classrooms are short term fixes, temporary, or portable is not true for most school districts. It is very difficult to remove modular classrooms from schools unless they happen to be situated directly in the footprint of a construction site, or they are simply falling apart. Most districts with an accurate set of records can point to modulars that have been in daily use for as long as 30 or 40 years, well beyond the intended design life.
School districts should take a close look at their current inventory of modular classrooms in respect to the age and condition of each unit. Based on this information, replacement or elimination of units should be included in the district’s Capital Improvement Plan. When the need arises to purchase new modular classrooms, it appears that school districts may have better design choices than in the past. However, facility administrators should exercise caution when considering a “three to five year need for additional space”. New units are likely to remain in the inventory well past the need for a short-term fix.