Greening Modular Classrooms

You've seen them squatting beside school buildings: molding modular classrooms that were installed as temporary fixes for crowded schools but have long ago become eyesores that aren’t healthy for children or the environment. Although they're called portables, most are rarely relocated because the construction won't hold up to moves.

Oregon BEST played a key matchmaker role when PSU architecture faculty Margarette Leite and Sergio Palleroni started looking into a green alternative to the tired modular classroom.

"Oregon BEST was part of the original team, and they helped us make connections," says Leite. "They knew about resources as well as the right people to talk to at the right time."

The result?

Leite and Palleroni's SAGE (Smart Academic Green Environment) Classroom lets in twice the natural light, circulates three times as much air, and consumes about half the energy of a standard portable classroom. It's made of nontoxic materials and can be configured for different climates (the Oregon model needs no air conditioning, thanks to passive ventilation). And a steel frame allows the classroom to be moved as often as necessary, adding to its sustainability.

All this for a cost of about $75,000—about 20 percent more than conventional portables cost in Portland, but a quarter of the price of other green modular classrooms on the market.

"Every school district in the country could conceivably afford this classroom," says Palleroni. "It's a dramatic paradigm shift from what exists now."

The PSU venture was invited to display a full-sized prototype at Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco, where it created quite a buzz. Since then, distributors have signed on to sell the classroom across the country.

The PSU team partnered with Blazer Industries in Aumsville, Oregon to produce the prototype as well as future SAGE Classrooms, which creates jobs.

Leite and Palleroni also tapped the research tools and expertise of PSU's Green Building Research Laboratory, a signature shared-use facility of Oregon BEST.

In addition to Oregon BEST and the PSU lab, other partners include the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions, the American Institute of Architects Portland, Portland Public Schools, the State of Oregon Building Codes Division, Energy Trust of Oregon, Oregon BEST, Oregon Solutions, and others.