Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Easy Come, Easy Go Campus Buildings

modular building 


Pick a college or university campus—virtually any college or university campus. It will quite likely offer a panoramic view of beautiful (small and large) buildings, some with gleaming glass façades.

Today, and for a number of years, campuses have also contained smaller more modest buildings constructed of modular pieces—walls and roofs that can be disassembled and moved from one campus location to another and reconstructed as needed. These buildings can also be disassembled and stored on campuses that find themselves temporarily with needs for less space.

Indeed, modular campus buildings allow modern college and university campuses to flex their muscles and grow or to pull back and shrink—depending upon what the growing or shrinking campus population dictates.

There are several different ways to approach modular building construction. Among these are buildings made of modular panelsconstructed on site by contractors. Then, too, smaller buildings can be constructed off site and hauled to their destinations. Choose the option best suited to the needs of your campus.

Some good news: Modular buildings are no longer ugly. In some cases, they may even rank among the most attractive and compelling buildings on your campus.

Consider, for instance, the Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre and Production Center at Boston University assembled by BOND, a construction management firm specializing in academic and healthcare buildings.

The finished four-story 75,000-square-foot complex building offers a multi-functional theater with innovative spaces and design labs for teaching as well as for developing and producing student theater. In addition, the complex contains a 65,000-square-foot, two-level underground parking garage with a landscaped plaza—to support the modular theater.

To develop the facility, BOND worked closely with university stakeholders and the firm of Elkus Manfredi Architects to tailor a design and construction plan to the allotted budget. The approach they hit upon involved off-site prefabrication and materials selection, plus the resolution of several constructability issues.

Once the preliminary issues were settled, BOND erected the building on an aggressive, fast-track, 15-month schedule of design and construction.

“It was a challenging project,” recalls David Flynn, Boston University’s assistant vice president of facilities management. “The project team helped us evaluate options and find creative ways to meet needs and priorities.”

The facility also stands as a very energy-efficient building. It earned a LEED Platinum award—LEED’s highest honor. In terms of energy efficiency, Kromm says the Center can tap energy from a variety of sources including wind, solar, and ground water.

The variety of energy-efficient tools employed by the center enables the building to function as a teaching tool in the school’s offerings related to energy-efficient building systems.

Upon completing the project, BOND received a Construction Management Association of America, New England Chapter, Project Achievement Award.

A Short Course in Modular College Buildings

“The modular style that our company employs on college campuses is generally a single-story building,” says David Kromm, an architect and principal with KRJ Planning and Research, an arm of KRJ Architects, Inc. “Given campus economics, modular college buildings are usually on the modest side.”

Nevertheless, modular buildings aren’t necessarily simple boxes. Some feature fairly sophisticated architectural design.

“The level of architectural design necessary reflects the requirements of our assignments,” says Michael Lyss, senior vice president of KRJ architects.

KRJ assembles the modular buildings for its projects off-site and then has them trucked to the customer’s location.

“These modular buildings—from small structures and up to modular homes and buildings—may also be assembled on site by the contractor,” adds Kromm.

Lyss also notes that KRJ can plan buildings such as dormitories by way of separate modules that can be “concatenated” or linked together in a chain or series at the site.

“We can link four modules together to create larger buildings around the basic module, which becomes the architectural planning unit,” Lyss says.

The Emerging Modular Campus Building Industry

Modular building companies have been around for a decade or more. According to Vanguard Modular Building Systems, LLC, colleges and universities have been using Vanguard modular buildings for a number of years. Applications include student housing, classroom structures, common areas and meeting spaces, science labs, technology centers, computer labs, dining halls, libraries, locker rooms, press boxes, and administrative buildings—pretty much any kind of campus building.

You might be concerned about how modular buildings adapt to building code requirements. That is certainly a question worth taking up with your modular building manufacturer.

In the case of Vanguard, the company has designed and constructed its buildings in accordance with International Building Code (IBC) requirements.

Vanguard notes that undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase by 19.6 million students by 2024. That’s less than five years from now. It can take that long plus millions of dollars to build a conventional dormitory.

As undergraduate enrollments continue to increase, colleges and universities are using modular buildings to expand their campus facilities. In fact, modular buildings appear to be one of the most important and efficient tools in this effort.

Modular Speed and Economy

Modular construction is much faster than conventional construction. Vanguard’s experience indicates that a typical modular project will finish four weeks or even earlier than a conventional project. In fact, a modular project might progress from groundbreaking to finish during a summer break.

Think of it this way. If a modular building is constructed offsite, a contractor can start and finish site preparation during construction and have the site ready by the time the finished building arrives on campus. That can cut the entire construction schedule by an average of 50 percent.

Vanguard also reports that the economics of modular buildings can cut costs by eliminating weather delays, controlling losses and damage to materials, and ensuring quality control, especially when construction takes place indoors.

Since modular buildings can be constructed in the factory, rain delays, snow delays, and other weather problems that shut down projects can be eliminated. Indoor factory construction also eliminates outdoor damage to materials from the elements.

Indoor construction also cuts down on or even eliminates the problem of theft. Indoor construction, which can handle as much as 90 percent of the process, also reduces the campus disruptions often, if not always, caused by outdoor building processes.

Modular building manufacturers are also proving themselves sensitive to environmental concerns. According to Vanguard, modular buildings meet the requirements of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

The category’s building practices may also lead to modular expansion of campus support systems such as heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems.

“Planned well, these systems allow for flexibility and growth over the years,” Kromm says. “In this way, colleges and universities can ensure flexibility in terms of alternative building uses. Such planning can save a lot of money.”

In conclusion, modular buildings can help existing college and university campuses evolve and grow without incurring the enormous costs of designing and constructing conventional new buildings. And even so, a modular building program can produce facilities that look like and perform like conventional buildings.


modular building 


Mountaineer Hall
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC

When student population was growing on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, a modular building option was chosen to fast track a new residence hall project in order to have the new facility open in time for the upcoming academic year. The project was completed within nine months.

Production time was shortened with the use of pre-built floor assembly at the factory. The boxes assembled into the final structure were identical, also shortening production time at the factory as well as installation time on site. Eighty percent of the facility was already finished when it arrived on site, thus lessening time that was spent on trim work and finishing.

The 97,000-square-foot, brick-exterior facility, which accommodates 460 undergraduate students in hotel-style rooms, has earned LEED Gold certification.

modular building 


Bookstore and Mailroom
Loyola University of Maryland
Baltimore, MD

When Loyola University of Maryland was doubling the size of their dining facility, the expansion would encroach on the campus bookstore and mail center. While the plans were approved for the renovation work, there was no projected plan for displaced facilities.

The solution was a 9,600-square-foot modular building, installed by Modular Genius, to serve as a long-term temporary space solution. To match the modern campus, inflections were designed on the front of the building instead of a standard flat front. An architectural design with the use of the Cembonit fiber cement panels in a rainscreen application was an ideal solution to achieve an energy-efficient building. In order to maintain a permanent appearance without absorbing a permanent cost, the building was installed on a standard dry-stacked concrete block pier system on below-grade concrete footers.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management September 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.