Portland State University, in collaboration with Blazer Industries and Pacific Construction Services (a division of Pacific Mobile Structures), has designed and built the first prototype for a green modular classroom that promises to be a truly affordable alternative to the status quo for school districts across the nation. The classroom, dubbed SAGE for “Smart Academic Green Environment,” debuted at this year’s Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco. It provides enhanced natural daylight, dramatically improved indoor air quality, spaciousness, and high-quality non-toxic materials in a compact and beautiful package, all for little more than the typical modular classroom costs. The design team’s goal was to provide a viable alternative to the current poorly performing and uninspired modular classroom and to raise the standards for what is an acceptable educational environment for our nation’s schoolchildren.
What makes the SAGE classroom project unique, in addition to its focus on affordability, is the process by which it came about. The project was started by faculty and students in Architecture and Engineering at Portland State University as a vehicle for exploring how they, as future professionals, could use their talents in service of the public good. The Department of Architecture at Portland State University held symposia and design exercises to explore the complex issues that lead to our continued dependence on modular classrooms in Portland, in particular, and the country as a whole. The project's importance was recognized by Oregon governor John Kitzhaber who designated the project an official 'Oregon Solution' in 2011. That designation helps worthy projects create a network of support that brings together public, private and non-profit groups to find sustainable solutions to community issues. The process generated a multi-partner entity which, in addition to the above partners, included PSU’s Green Building Research Lab and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions along with the American Institute of Architects of Portland, State of Oregon Building Codes Division, Portland Public Schools, the Energy Trust of Oregon, Oregon BEST and many others to bring to fruition this first prototype.
The modular building industry in North America is a $5 billion industry with relocatable (or portable) modular classrooms accounting for over $2 billion. With 350,000 classrooms in use around the country it’s clear that a great number of our students are spending their growing years in these structures. With shrinking school budgets, aging school buildings, and American families moving on average every five years, which creates fluctuating and unpredictable enrollments, it is likely that districts will continue to use modular classrooms to fill the void where brick and mortar schools leave off. The benefits of the typical modular are cost, quick installation time and portability. The negatives are poor-quality materials, inadequate natural daylight, noisy and inefficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems and a general impression that they represent low quality and unattractive additions to most neighborhoods. All of these factors are correlated to decreased student performance and an increase in absenteeism and health-related issues. By contrast, the new classroom features:
• improved HVAC systems based on energy recovery ventilation for healthier air, noise reduction and energy conservation,
• abundant natural daylighting,
• all natural, low- or no-VOC containing materials
• steel floor structure for greater portability and reduced infrastructure.
For little more than the typical classroom, and with greater savings in infrastructure and long term energy reduction, the SAGE classroom will ensure that all schools in need of modulars now have a healthier and affordable alternative for their students.
The new SAGE classroom has generated much excitement, with school districts across the country expressing interest and distributors lining up to sell the classroom. The prototype will be placed in an Oregon school following Greenbuild and will be monitored to test its performance as a basis for further refinement. The Gervais School District in central Oregon plans to use 20 of the classrooms to help develop a consolidated campus for its elementary, middle and high school students. The project has garnered a prestigious international SEED award and has been the subject of numerous news articles and public television interviews.
For more information on the SAGE Classroom project, please visit the project's web site here.