Campus Space Crunch: How Modular Makes the Most of Constrained Spaces

The number and quality of campus facilities has become a competitive advantage in the quest to enrich the campus experience and increase student enrollment, entice the best and brightest faculty for teaching and research, and address overcrowded student housing. In recent years, more colleges and universities have made strategic decisions to allot additional resources to capital construction projects to build academic buildings, dorms and other student accommodations, labs, recreational facilities, child care centers and other campus structures.

But the big question on many campuses remains one of space: where to put all these new students, faculty members and buildings?

To address the need for new buildings, much of campus site planning comes down to the ability to build in constrained spaces, either adding on to an existing building or building an entirely new structure in an area already crowded with buildings and people.

Modular campus construction may offer the most economical and safe solution for building in tight, often urban spaces with an important added benefit: most institutions have aggressive timelines (to build an addition over the summer break or complete new student housing by move-in day). According to the Modular Building Institute, modular construction is up to 50 per cent faster than conventional construction.

Here’s how a building constructed off site can make your campus space planning headaches go away, with examples from Yale, University of Virginia, Muhlenberg College and Lehman College.

Easier access to tight spaces

The ability to stack sections vertically to create more space without the need for more site space is one of the elements that makes modular construction an extremely attractive solution for many higher education institutions. For example, the University of Virginia (UVA) recently completed an 11,500 square foot, two-story modular addition to its medical center. The site of the new building is in close proximity to Jordan Hall—UVA’s School of Medicine. With limited access to the actual site, truck drivers needed to back up through a very narrow space to deliver the sections to the site.

When it came time to tack on 100,000 square feet of new dormitory space to one of its historic residence halls, administrators at Yale University chose modular construction. The contractor had to install the modules on a site located in the midst of historic buildings that were fully occupied and operational. The only access to the tight space was through a narrow alley. The small operating radius required craning the sections of the building at awkward angles, and a height of 70 feet, to bypass surrounding buildings and navigate the modules into place.

Less site congestion and disruption

By their very nature, college campuses are lively, busy environments. Try as you might to schedule construction projects at a time when the noise, dust, congestion and other inconveniences will have less of an impact, such as during the summer months, some construction activities must take place next to student housing or when classes are in session. This makes it critical to complete the project as quickly as possible and with minimal disruption and congestion.

Off-site construction reduces the need to for material storage and for workers to park in the area, which eliminates many of the concerns over congestion and disruption. When space constraints are a concern, modular construction shifts most of the noise, debris, and traffic away from the site and into a controlled, off-site manufacturing environment.

As an example, Lehman College’s 12,000 square foot new child care center was built off site, and minimizing site disruption on a busy campus at the start of fall semester was an important reason for this choice. The 22 units were craned into place over a three-day period at the end of September and, because the units were 99 per cent complete before they were transported to their home in the Bronx, onsite work was completed by a minimum of tradespeople in a minimum of time.

When Muhlenberg College wanted to build a three-story addition to its historic original residence building, maintaining the old world charm of both the site and the landscape was a high priority. The fact that the addition was built off site as 20 modules meant that it could be erected onsite without disturbing any of the large, century-old trees on the property.

Safer construction in tight environments

With so many trades working together and material and equipment deliveries in close proximity to students, staff and neighbors, it can be difficult to maintain a safe site in a traditional construction zone, especially where space is tight. One of the advantages of modular construction is that it reduces the need to have multiple trades working together in tight spaces, which eliminates a significant amount of potential conflict between tradespeople themselves and between trades and the general public. With modular construction, up to 90 per cent of the construction takes place off site in a controlled, often indoor environment where only people involved in the construction of the building are present. As a result, there are fewer chances for job injuries and fatalities.

Use modular construction and solve your space crunch

In today’s economy of tight budgets and escalating construction costs, all types of educational institutions can use modular construction to plan around campus building site constraints, including:

  • Public schools
  • Charter schools
  • Primary education schools
  • Secondary education schools
  • Private schools
  • Trade schools
  • Technical schools
  • Day cares
  • Montessori schools

Modern educational buildings must meet strict performance targets, such as acoustic, thermal or ventilation requirements, and provide flexible buildings that can suit a variety of uses. Modular construction offers the ability to meet your campus space utilization objectives and save you time and money.

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