Many parents received an unpleasant shock when on the 4th of September 2023, it was announced that over a hundred schools, colleges and nurseries in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would remain shut following the 6 week summer holidays, as a building material known as reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC for short) had been found in their buildings and was deemed to be unsafe.
Not only does shutting educational facilities have a significant impact on children's education, but it can threaten the ability of families to work, and in unstable financial times such as those that we are experiencing now, this can be very unsettling.
Of course, nobody wants to work in or send their child into an unsafe environment, so it is understandable that many of these facilities continue to remain closed, but the question now remains, what is the solution?
Many in the construction industry see this as a perfect opportunity to promote modular construction as a solution.
How modular building techniques can combat the RAAC crisis
RAAC was originally selected as a building material because it was cheap. However, it has been determined to have a limited lifespan and many buildings that were constructed as late as the 1990s with this material are now showing critical signs of deterioration and are deemed to pose a safety risk to their occupants.
Modular construction is an ideal solution as this method of manufacture is very cost effective yet does not pose the same long-term safety implications as RAAC. With modular construction, quality control is second to none, with modules being constructed off-site under controlled conditions which are subject to continuous quality checks before being transported to and installed at site.
Modular construction is well known for reducing project timelines and minimising disruption at site. This is of particular importance for educational facilities where the noise generated by excavating and building and the pollution resulting from the operation of heavy machinery and traditional methods of construction can impede learning. Further, regular movement of heavy machinery can prevent students from accessing a school's outdoor spaces, which can be detrimental to their mental and physical health.
It has been suggested that modular construction can be used in a number of different ways. It can allow structures which must be demolished due to the presence of RAAC to be replaced like-for-like, it can be used to provide structural support to the remaining infrastructure, and as an added benefit, modular construction can improve the energy efficiency of the facilities and thus lower a school's annual energy bill.
Modular buildings can be used to replace existing classrooms and toilet facilities on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Many of the affected schools have already procured portacabins to use as temporary classrooms, and feedback so far has generally been very positive, with many children reporting to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan that they preferred their temporary classrooms to those that they had previously occupied .
The cost of modular construction
Demolishing and rebuilding the affected schools using traditional methods of construction will take a prolonged period of time and create significant disruption, not only to local residents but also to families whose children need to be homeschooled or provided with access to remote learning around their own work schedules.
In sharp contrast, modular construction represents a flexible and cost-effective solution in which targeted repairs and replacement units can be deployed quickly, getting children back into the classroom, keeping educators and students safe and saving public funds.
Modular construction is already certified as conforming to the Department for Skills and Education building bulletins as well as to standard UK building regulations. Each module can be designed to meet the exact specifications of the educational facility that requires it, acting either as a standalone unit or being blended into an existing building. The flexibility delivered by modular construction has far reaching benefits, including allowing schools to rapidly shrink or grow their footprint according to pupil numbers.
In conclusion, modular construction is not only the answer to a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious country and to achieving the government's carbon reduction targets, but to the issues experienced at the moment in schools, colleges and nurseries across the country.