As schools across the U.S. face worsening budget woes, they’re coming up with suspicious financial shortcuts, like sticking students in stuffy portable classrooms that have little daylight, poor air quality, and bad acoustics.
For years, smart building system manufacturer Project Frog has worked on energy-saving classrooms for cash-strapped schools. But up until recently, the company just couldn’t compete on pricing with the poorly constructed portable classrooms that schools had come to rely on. Now, earlier this year, the company teamed up with HMC Architects to create a new classroom building platform that’s cheap, durable, and simple-but also energy efficient, with plenty of daylight and high ceilings.
Dubbed “Impact,” the product includes flat-packed building components that can be reconfigured to fit individual schools’ needs. The rooms, which get built by any general contractor, come with LED lighting, large windows, and high ceilings. As a result, classrooms can run on 85% daylight, only using artificial light 15% of the time. That’s a big deal: Lighting is by far the biggest energy hog in classrooms.
“It’s not modular, not a relocatable classroom. This is a permanent building by definition on concrete foundations, built like any permanent wood-framed structure on site in pieces that are all cut and assembled and nailed together on the job site,” explains Brian Staton, CEO of HMC Architects.
The firms are first building the kits in California. “We decided that since California has the most stringent building codes because of seismic [issues], let’s build so that it works in every zone in California. It’s completely a national kit,” says Ann Hand, CEO of Project Frog. Next, they plan to turn to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, where schools are mandated to be greener.
The cost is somewhere in the range of $245 to $275 per square foot, while relocatable buildings are closer to $300 per square foot (for a finished California union job), the firms say. Already, Project Frog and HMC have gotten schools across the state on board. Says Hand: “It’s so much easier than what it was like selling for the four years before. We’re now at a price point where we go up against bad modular and beat them on every aspect of the value proposition.”