With student numbers set to grow to unprecedented levels Australia-wide, prefabricated modular buildings may become a crucial solution.
SYDNEY’S population is set to double over the next 40 years, with a projected 21 per cent growth in student numbers by 2031 – that’s almost 1.5 million students over the next 15 years in NSW alone.
The NSW Government will invest a staggering $6 billion over the next four years to deliver more than 170 new and upgraded schools (and around 2000 classrooms) throughout the State.
“We are in the midst of a school building program NSW has never before experienced and this year’s Budget takes this to a whole new level,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a statement.
With overcrowding already an issue, and old demountable buildings still being used in NSW schools, new classroom infrastructure to meet the growing demand is definitely high on the agenda.
Late last year the State Government challenged the construction and design community to develop a new, permanent and high-quality classroom model that would be responsive to demand and growth in student populations.
To clarify, demountable classrooms are temporary structures aimed to alleviate a growing student body while new facilities are built. A prefabricated modular classroom is built off site but is a highly adaptable and customisable permanent building.
Advanced Manufacturing in Prefabricated Housing Research Director Professor Tuan Ngo thinks prefabricated classrooms could be the solution.
“New prefabricated buildings can be customisable to achieve both variety and individuality. Innovative prefab buildings which are well designed can alleviate one of the current market challenges by moving prefabrication away from the production of identical, repetitive utilitarian buildings, towards high-quality, custom-tailored design products,” Professor Ngo said.
There are benefits for using modular prefabricated buildings in the education sector because the innovative design for manufacturing and assembly can be used to mass customise the buildings and classrooms.
“New prefabricated modular buildings are reusable, durable, quicker to manufacture and assemble, have greater energy efficiency and reduced costs,” he said.
Professor Ngo believes that in traditional classroom construction, insufficient attention is given to the indoor environment which impacts directly on human comfort, well-being and productivity.
“Achieving healthy indoor environments is a key challenge facing built environment professionals, and requires informed design decisions and integrated technologies,” he said.
“Using new technologies, modular prefabricated classrooms can incorporate sensors to measure thermal comfort, air quality, acoustic, lighting quality, and occupant perception and building services can be controlled and optimised accordingly to achieve highly efficient buildings and human comfort.”
However he does see some challenges for prefabricated classrooms in keeping up with the demand of a growing student body; specifically, because the design and delivery process of prefabricated building systems are different from those commonly used in traditional architectural, industrial and engineering design projects.
“Prefabricated buildings are comprehensively planned products requiring greater emphasis on design, processes, modelling and integration of components,” Professor Ngo said.
“The delivery process for prefabricated buildings is also markedly different from traditional design and construction.
“For the growing demand for prefab schools, functional requirements of classrooms and engagement throughout the build process among designers, manufacturers/builders and school operators are very important,” he said.
School should also consider what kind of flexible and innovative design would be most suited to their environment.
“It is very important to identify and synthesise the underpinning processes for selecting materials and designing integrated systems that holistically consider functionality, structural adequacy, energy consumption and reusability into tools that will help design professionals achieve high-quality designs satisfying school and student requirements,” Professor Ngo said.
Prefabricated classrooms could be the way of the future. Professor Ngo said that skills shortages, a fragmented and inefficient supply chain, and the spiralling costs of building materials have made traditional construction more and more expensive.
“Sustainability, health and well-being, and safety imperatives together with the market-wide expectation for high-quality design have further challenged traditional construction,” he said.
“Advanced manufacturing of prefabricated buildings is a viable alternative. Our research shows the productivity and efficiency gains that advanced manufacturing techniques can offer.
“In particular, enabling technologies such as composite lightweight materials and systems, automated off-site manufacturing, mass customisation, and complex systems thinking are essential components of prefabricated buildings,” he said.
The NSW briefing for innovative and flexible classroom design included the directive that it be customisable for individual schools, including school halls and libraries, and that they could be delivered in multi-storey, multi-classroom blocks – so far prefabricated classrooms seem to fit the bill.
“This trend and the increasing demand for a fast delivery of school classrooms
will make modular prefab school more mainstream in the future,” Professor Ngo said.
Victoria is investing more than $2.5 billion to meet the demand of the predicted 90,000 school aged children and teenagers by 2022.
The State has implemented a Permanent Modular School Building Program as part of the third round of the Labor Government’s Asbestos Removal Program; a $200
million investment which has removed all high-level risk asbestos from schools and replacing them with architecturally design, permanent modular buildings.
Minister for Education James Merlino visited Glengala/sunshine West Primary School recently to announce the third round of schools set to receive new buildings as part of the Program.
“We are improving school infrastructure across Victoria so every student has the opportunity to get the most out of their education,” Minister Merlino said.
“Using permanent modular buildings increases flexibility for schools and reduces the interruptions to students, staff and teaching programs.”
The Victorian School Building Authority will work with schools on building details such as colour and location, with 47 schools now receiving major upgrades as part of the program.
“Sustainability, health and well-being, and safety imperatives together with the market-wide expectation for high-quality design have further challenged traditional construction.”
Prefabricated classrooms at Glengala/sunshine West Primary School.
Glengala/sunshine West Primary School (VIC).
Inside a prefabricated classroom at Glengala/ Sunshine West Primary School (VIC).