Property and Infrastructure Specialists

Are modular classrooms the answer to overcrowded schools?

Planning and delivering schools that can flexibly accommodate increasing student numbers, without resorting to bland demountables, has inspired a fresh approach to designing modular buildings.

Modular buildings are sustainable and innovatively designed, with a comparable lifespan to bricks and mortar structures and a construction period reduced by up to half when compared with a traditional build.

Victoria set the scene in 2017 when architecturally-designed, permanent modular buildings were installed as part of their $155M Permanent Modular School Buildings Program to remove asbestos from schools. Since then, the program has upgraded over forty-five schools across Victoria.

In 2017, the NSW Government also announced an ambitious plan to spend $6B to deliver more than 170 new and upgraded schools, ensuring schools can flexibly accommodate increasing student numbers. The then NSW Education Minister, Rob Stokes, challenged the building and construction industry to develop flexible, prefabricated multi-purpose classrooms that can be easily constructed using a range of building materials.

Like any new pathway to success, there are associated risks involved and using modular construction to address school classroom shortages is no different.

Like any new pathway to success, there are associated risks involved and using modular construction to address school classroom shortages is no different. Some of the key risks to consider are:

1. Not having a lighthouse (standardised) design and hence not achieving the advantages available through a modular approach

  • Get on the front foot and canvas schools that want to be involved in developing a standard design. Get their buy in.
  • Engage with a representative group to develop lighthouse learning space layouts.
  • Try to achieve some flexibility with standardisation. For example, identify some different layouts that respond to the teaching and learning needs and focus on standardising a select number of these.

2. Too many specialised requirements and stakeholder voices that challenge the standardisation

Create a representative reference group from the schools wishing to participate in developing a standard suite of designs and develop a solid communications plan.

3. Design criticism from industry

Create a consortium of designers to have input into the design so that differing practices are leveraged to create more of an industry accepted standard.

4. Restricting the market through a focus on one type of manufactured system 

Look to develop a design suitable to be modularised through various manufacturing systems that is linked to the flexibility within the facility guidelines.

5. Resistance from schools not involved or adverse to the process of standardisation 

Create an engagement and communication plan that looks to transparently document the process and seek opportunities to present the outputs as part of the journey.

6. Inability of manufacturers to meet demand 

Engage with manufacturers to understand capacity and barriers.

7. Internal capacity to deliver 

As part of the planning or business case for these modular buildings, a procurement plan that considers internal capacity and programme methodology should be an essential piece of work.

8. Disconnect between internal processes and procedures and the modular program

Develop a pre-agreed pathway with decision makers that meets appropriate governance requirements, risk and reporting frameworks to ensure transparent monitoring and control, but also importantly doesn’t impact the time advantages of a modular approach.

9. Without a program management methodology, lessons learnt and continuous improvement processes may not be identified and applied 

Apply PMO with responsibility of oversight of the program.

Modular classrooms undoubtedly present many benefits. The fast turnaround provides students with high-quality learning environments providing space for a growing student body, with minimal disruption to learning and when the above risks are given due consideration, we can maximise the success of their implementation.

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