The words “prefab classroom” probably cast your memory back to those long hot summer afternoons spent crammed inside rectangular demountables at school, fighting with classmates for a seat next to a window or pedestal fan, and counting down the minutes until the final bell.
Or maybe you were lucky enough to have one with airconditioning, and only now understand the amount of electricity it takes to cool one of those under-insulated, leaky and poorly-ventilated boxes, which were usually dropped on site without a thought for sun and wind orientation.
But enduring through all of this negativity is a profound relevance of prefab for school building projects where time, safety and accessibility constraints are as tight as ever, and where governments continually seek cost-effective approaches to providing new buildings to a large number of schools.
Thankfully though, the new crop of prefab classrooms is a vast improvement on the last, in both comfortability and sustainability, and thanks to the host of new prefab design and construction outifits who offer customisation, they’re also being designed specifically for intended use, site and local conditions.
One of those is the recently completed Phoenix College Early Learning Centre (PCELC) in Sebastopol Victoria, which is the first prefabricated educational facility to be delivered for the Victorian Department of Education and Training.
Arkit are the construction and design team behind the project, an outfit that pride themselves on delivering high-quality, customised prefabricated building solutions, and they believe the PCELC is something special.
The PCELC was purpose designed for the local climatic conditions and is designed within the existing primary school site.
The PCELC was purpose designed for the local climatic conditions and is certainly not a run-of-the-mill demountable school building. Besides all the benefits that come with prefab construction method, like higher construction tolerances, reduced construction waste and minimised site impacts and topsoil disturbance, the building has also been designed to strict measures of sustainability.
For starters, the building is timber framed and made predominantly from PEFC and FSC certified timbers, including Hyspan Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) flooring and roof spans from Carter Holt Harvey and reconstituted timber structural flooring and wall bracing.
Low voltage fluorescent and LED fittings, low-flow water fixtures and low-VOC coatings are also used throughout, as are products with high-recycled content like Marmoluem flooring (including 43 per cent recycled content) and EC Modular environmentally advanced carpet tiles (including 100 per cent recycled pile and 90 per cent recycled backing).
But the building also had to be as efficient in operation as was during construction.
A highly insulated exterior envelope combining a unique vented cavity and high performance vapour barriers from Pro-clima was selected to improve the building’s thermal performance and minimise thermal bridging, while double glazed window units with thermal breaks feature throughout and were selected for similar reasons.
The building has been designed to facilitate passive heating and cooling and localised heating and cooling systems have been incorporated to enable areas to be zoned according to use.
When combined with the benefits of prefabrication, the project’s relativity, character and customisation provides a higher quality outcome for learning, building occupants and the built environment.
While it could be argued that the biggest all-round benefit of the PCELC is that it was built and erected quickly with minimal disruption to the school and surrounding area, Akit emphasised its timber framed construction as particularly beneficial when compared to traditional demountable prefab classrooms.
“Our building system uses significantly embodied energy as compared to steel or aluminium framed or masonry structures,” says Arkit.
“By example, on a weight for weight basis, aluminium requires 1500 per cent times the energy to produce and steel requires 300 per cent times the energy to produce in comparison to timber.”
Arkit also emphasised the PCELC’s custom design as integral to its success (although no green ratings and certification have been provided to measure this) and hinted that future prefab school buildings would benefit by following this lead.
“The introduction of highly sustainable, custom designed prefabricated school buildings, being those purpose designed both for their intended use, site and local conditions, will combine the benefits of prefabrication with higher quality outcomes for learning, building occupants and the built environment,” says team.
EGGERS OS’FLOOR ORIENTED STRAND BOARD, FORMALDEHYDE FREE, FSC AND PEFC CERTIFIED
EGGERS OS’BRACE ORIENTED STRAND BOARD, FORMALDEHYDE FREE, PEFC CERTIFIED
FLOOR AND ROOFING STRUCTURE
CARTER HOLT HARVEY HYSPAN LAMINATED VENEER LUMBER (LVL) MANUFACTURED FROM PLANTATION TIMBER, FSC CERTIFIED
PRO-CLIMA SOLITEX EXTASANSA HIGH PERFORMANCE AIR TIGHTNESS AND MOISTURE RESISTANT AND PRO-CLIMA SOLITEX MENTO HIGH PERFORMANCE AIR TIGHTNESS AND MOISTURE RESISTANT ROOF MEMBRANE
WHITTLE WAXESTREATEX TRADITIONAL CLEAR SATIN INTERNAL TIMBER FINISH
CUTEK LOW VOC GREEN RATED TIMBER PROTECTION OIL EXTERIOR TIMBER FINISH
DULUX WASH AND WEAR ENVIRON 2 LOW VOC INTERIOR PAINT
EC MODULAR ENVIRONMENTALLY ADVANCED CARPET TILES
LOW VOLTAGE FLUORESCENT AND LED FITTINGS