Portable Classrooms

With the rapid population growth Seattle is experiencing, one of the issues Seattle is grappling with is the need for increased classroom capacity. Many Seattle public schools are experiencing growing student bodies and limited budgets. Their dilemma is an interesting one; it has a cost and time element. Schools need to meet effective student-to-teacher ratios (which has financial impacts such as hiring new staff and facilities expansion). The circumstances require that they come up with a resolution to the problem almost immediately. This combination of cost constraints and immediacy often results in the construction of portable classrooms. Portable classrooms effectively address both the cost and time constraints. They require about a third of the cost of typical construction and can be brought online relatively quickly compared to traditional construction.

Classroom portables are perceived as a temporary solution, and their construction reflects this perception. The reality is these structures often become semi-permanent solutions; they are frequently used well beyond their lifespan. Portable Classrooms frequently have indoor environmental issues regarding CO2 levels and moisture problems due to poor ventilation. It is because of these issues, among many others, that portables often have a negative connotation attached to them and why educators/parents seek alternative solutions initially.

I would contend that portable classrooms aren’t fatally flawed. Their only significant flaw is that they are conceived as a temporary solution. Portables should be designed with the intention of being an economic, immediate, and permanent classroom solution.

With new manufacturing technologies the fabrication of these modules can be streamlined, this would allow money, which typically would be allocated for construction labor, to be used upfront on design.

With increased design money, manufacturers/architects/engineers could resolve some of the issues around indoor environmental quality and material deterioration. New construction types such as CLT could also be explored. CLT offers the efficiency of pre-manufactured construction, is a material with a low carbon impact, while still being durable. Additionally, CLT could assist in stimulating the regional economy in the Pacific Northwest.

By simply re-thinking how we spend the same amount of money in the design and construction of portable classrooms, it is possible to improve the quality of these spaces and the education which happens in them.

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