Prefab Classrooms Create Healthy Learning Environment
Redmond, WA — Look out the window and imagine children doing the same; setting their sights on clear, focused instruction in environmentally-friendly classrooms. This vision comes clear for almost 400 students in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) this September. The third fastest growing school district in the Puget Sound region invests in its future generations by going green. LWSD opens 13 new Smart Academic Green Environment (SAGE) classrooms for the 2015-2016 school year. Director of Student Services Forrest Miller says “We are bursting at the seams. The greatest need is a place for students to learn. And, we want students to have spaces they can learn well in.”
SAGE Modular Classrooms do not look like stereotypical portable classrooms, and they provide comfort for learning in structures that will last until this year’s kindergartners become grandparents. These classrooms are built to save school districts more than 50 percent of energy costs and the expense of replacing standard modular units twice as often. PMSI Major Projects Sales Representative Patrick Allen says, “We felt like SAGE would be a good outlet for [LWSD]. They could be proud to their constituency.” Allen and Miller agree the district’s parent-base educates itself and insists its children are taught under the top circumstances, making SAGE the perfect fit. Allen adds, “They [LWSD parents] wanted to know formaldehyde levels. They wanted to know about the HVAC systems. We were constantly answering questions to the district about health concerns and so we felt SAGE would be a good solution.”
These healthier classrooms stem from two parents’ dream of a better educational atmosphere for their own daughter. Sergio Palleroni, an architecture professor at Portland State University (PSU), says, “There’s nothing more powerful than an impassioned mother out there fighting for kids.” Palleroni is referring to his wife, Margarette Leite, an assistant professor of architecture at PSU. The two spent much of their career working for communities in need, serving underprivileged areas. Despite a change in clientele, the two say their latest project definitely still serves a need. Leite explains, “We want to make sure that every student has a decent space to learn in and we want to change the basic acceptable standard for modular classrooms; and that could only happen because we could make it affordable and efficient.”
However, the two architects could not do it alone: They turned to their own students for assistance and expertise. More than 60 undergraduate and graduate students grabbed hold of the idea and conducted the necessary research and made one couple’s dream a reality; not only for their own children, but for future generations. A state-sponsored Oregon Solutions Initiative to create a healthy, cost-efficient modular classroom made the work possible. Pacific Mobile Structures and Blazer Industries also teamed up with Portland State University’s School of Architecture and Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science to allow elementary and secondary students to learn in healthier, more energy-efficient relocatable classrooms. Palleroni says, “This is one of those problems that is solved through communication. Everybody sat down and said, we could keep doing business as usual, but if we all get together, we’re going to solve the bigger problem we’ve been avoiding.”
Lake Washington School District becomes the second district in the state to house SAGE classrooms. Edmonds School District leaders initiated the project last year, purchasing 12 SAGE classrooms. They are adding 18 more of the SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) Award-winning classrooms to their campuses for the upcoming school year, ensuring even more students will learn by natural light while breathing fresh air. Allen says it’s only the beginning, “The SAGE classroom is pioneering a different thought process with a lot of the schools. I don’t think it’s unrealistic that in another four years that some form of a higher end, greener, healthier classroom will become the norm.” Throughout Washington and Oregon 45 SAGE classrooms will accommodate almost 1,400 students each day this school year.
Those students will reap the benefits of four times more natural light, 100 percent fresh air, and 150 percent more air circulation than traditional relocatable classrooms. Students will notice comfortable temperatures and the fact they may never need to turn on the lights, thanks to the vaulted ceilings and additional windows. Teachers can even create lesson plans based on the classrooms themselves and the environmentally-friendly materials used to ensure minimal waste. Allen adds, “The kids love the classroom. They’re learning about what the differences are between their standard classroom and these SAGE classrooms. Basically, everything we’ve heard has been positive.”
LWSD officials are relying on that outcome. Miller says the district looks to order six more SAGE classrooms for the 2016-2017 school year. As school district enrollments grow and change, so will their needs. For now, Miller looks forward to the first day of school, saying “I think there will be a lot of widened eyes as well as smiles. I love going to traditionally built schools when they’re opened to see kids experience something new; and I think this will be nothing less than that.” LWSD starts the new school year September 1st.
Reprint from Modular Building Institute
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