Modular Concrete Classrooms Save Money on School Additions

Years of thinking ahead have paid off for the School District of Palm Beach County -- both financially and from a sustainability perspective.

Instead of building two new school additions from scratch, the school district is stacking together previously purchased concrete relocatable classrooms from Royal Concrete Concepts, LLC with an industry best 100-year life cycle to create large two-story additions at Crestwood Middle School and Whispering Pines Elementary School.

"No one has ever moved concrete modular classrooms and reconfigured them into a new two-story wing addition," said John W. Albert III of RCC, explaining just one of the benefits to the district's decades-long strategy. "We're dealing with a very resourceful school district," Albert added.

The individual units, which are engineered to meet or exceed High Velocity Wind Zone requirements of the Florida Building Code and designed to withstand Category 5 Hurricanes, were originally purchased from Royal Concrete Concepts, LLC of West Palm Beach staring in 1998. Since then, they have withstood several punishing hurricanes without a single failure.

In the aftermath of the devastating 2005 and 2006 hurricanes, the district's facilities department was praised for its foresight in purchasing relocatables that were strong enough (made from 6,000 psi concrete) to survive South Florida hurricanes. Today the department is being praised again; this time for saving the district money on construction costs at a time when budgets are extremely tight.

"We're trying very hard to be conscientious about conserving taxpayer dollars as we approach compliance with student-teacher ratios and accommodating shifts in student populations from one side of the county to the other," explained Joseph Sanches, Chief of Facilities Management for the school district. The school district saved 26 percent on the cost for the new additions by utilizing relocatable classroom units compared to building a new addition from brand new materials, Sanches explained.

With the future in mind, the facilities department had standardized the concrete relocatables purchased by the school district in the early-2000s so that they all have flat roofs, which then made them expandable, stackable and reconfigurable to conserve precious space on school campuses. Royal Concrete Concepts was both the original manufacturer of the concrete classroom units and is the general contractor for the two most recent addition projects.

Site work began December 2010 at Crestwood Middle School on the collaborative effort with the construction management team at Moss & Associates of Ft. Lauderdale. The modulars started arriving on the school campus on March 28 and were set by April 8. Crestwood students are expected to occupy the new addition by August 2011. At Whispering Pines, the modulars are scheduled to arrive by early-July for project completion by December 2011.

"The big push is to get the Crestwood addition finished before the school year starts," explained Mark Sochacki, LEED-AP and Senior Project Manager for Moss and Associates. Teamwork and communication has been essential to keeping the project on schedule for an anticipated on-time completion, he said.

Royal Concrete Concepts had assisted the district with earlier school additions, including Jupiter Middle School, which also utilized concrete modular classrooms for an on-time fast-track project completion. It was the lessons learned on the earlier school project that has helped to make the Crestwood and Whispering Pines additions a reality. At Jupiter Middle School, 15 concrete modular classrooms were reused for 17,332 square foot wing addition. The project resulted in a 50 percent cost savings due to the reused modulars, according to Sanches.

In Royal Palm Beach at Crestwood Middle School, the relocatables will help by adding 1,773 student stations. The existing cafeteria will be expanded as well as several other upgrades to the facility by Moss & Associates acting as the construction manager.

In Boca Raton at Whispering Pines, the 25,171 square foot addition, will utilize 18 concrete relocatables that were transported from three different schools around the county. Early on, the district chose the long lasting modulars so they could move them as student populations shifted. Each relocatable will add 850 square feet of new classroom space to this school.

The eye-appealing yet functional architectural elements were designed into the projects by architect Lance Courtemanche of Tercilla Courtemanche Architects of West Palm Beach. The architects chose an L-shaped layout of the modular unit and a very attractive color scheme, a cream with gray and tan accents. The L-shaped layout also functions to provide students with shorter walk times compared to a long rectangular design.

The numerous LEED-Accredited Professionals with the school district teamed up with the LEED-APs at Royal Concrete Concepts and Tercilla Courtemanche to provide the most sustainable wing additions possible. The pre-engineered structural concrete elements were constructed off-site at Royal's Okeechobee facility, which helped reduce on-site material waste and site disruptions, and speed construction. The units are insulated for energy efficiency, and contain 30 percent recycled content, among other green attributes.

Courtemanche explained, "What is more sustainable than taking something already bought and used and then re-purposing it. That's one of the most 'green' things we could have done."

Newly manufactured elements for the wing addition included: stairwells, an elevator shaft, restrooms, laboratories, and electrical closets. The existing modular units were trucked to Okeechobee for replacement of their floors and refurbishing of the drywall, and then the interiors were given a fresh coat of paint. Other innovative design modifications were made to accommodate a two-story addition with previously free-standing modular units.

"It took collaborative thinking, teamwork and innovation by smart people across the project team to pull this off," said Albert. "It was amazing to witness these ideas come to fruition," he added.

Another unique fact is that some of the relocatable classrooms that are being re-used have been previously moved several times throughout the district to keep up with shifting demographics. At the School District of Palm Beach County, its students could learn a lot about frugality and sustainability from the facilities management department. But better yet, the relocatable concrete classroom program will continue to provide safer, greener surroundings that are enhancing the learning environment.

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