PSU, partners will build green portable classroom for Northwest debut
Author: Jenny DuVander, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: June 11, 2012

The design uses half the energy of a typical portable and creates a much healthier learning environment for young students. Caty Skogland / PSU


Portland State University and partners will build the first prototypes this summer of a green modular classroom that could be the new standard for a healthy and energy-efficient “portable” for school districts to address overcrowding.

“This project is successfully creating affordable, healthy, and green modular classrooms,” said Governor John Kitzhaber, who designated the effort an Oregon Solutions project last year. “I’m pleased that starting this fall, students in the Pacific Northwest will benefit from improved learning environments that are built right here in Oregon."

The classroom—known as SAGE, or Smart Academic Green Environment—is designed to use half the energy of the typical modular, increase the building’s portability, and improve indoor air quality. A prototype will be showcased this fall at the large Greenbuild conference in San Francisco, and will eventually make its home as a working classroom in Portland.

“This will be the healthiest affordable modular classroom in America,” said Margarette Leite, an architecture professor at Portland State who initiated the project in 2009 with husband and fellow architecture professor Sergio Palleroni in response to the quality of the portables in their own children’s schools.

Notable design features include:

  • A heat recovery system that reduces or eliminates the need for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
  • Doubling the number of windows, which increases natural daylight to stimulate learning.
  • Environmentally safe building materials that don’t leach toxins into the air.
  • Increased airflow that lowers interior carbon dioxide.
  • A steel floor structure that increases portability, making the green classroom less costly than a typical portable after just one relocation.

The design was unveiled this spring by a team including Portland State’s Department of Architecture, Green Building Research Lab, Oregon Solutions, Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and the office of Innovation and Intellectual Property. The PSU team won a 2012 Civic Engagement Award for the effort. Community partners on the project include local modular building manufacturer Blazer Industries, the American Institute of Architects, State of Oregon Building Codes Division, Portland Public Schools, Oregon BEST and Energy Trust of Oregon, among others.

Blazer Industries will construct the first two classrooms this summer using donated building materials, and two large national distributors of mobile buildings have committed to buy them. One classroom will be situated at a school in Chehalis, Washington, and the other will make its home in Portland so the Department of Architecture can study the building’s performance while in use.