An Argument In Favor Of On-Campus Modular Buildings

by Katie Sloan

Permanent modular construction can be faster to assemble and easier on the environment than some site-built facilities.

Jim SnyderToday, increasing student populations and subsequent demands for housing often collide with the reality of limited funds at colleges and universities. As a result, higher education administrators have exacting expectations for new facilities on campus. That means that while it is critical that new dormitories are completed on time and within budget, it is equally important that facilities perform well for many years into the future. It doesn’t hurt if the project can be built in a sustainable manner and the building can be operated with the highest level of efficiency. Permanent modular construction, or PMC, is a construction solution that meets these demands and more.

PMC takes most of the construction process off the building site and puts it into a controlled factory environment. The modular building components are fabricated in the factory and then shipped to the construction site where they are assembled to deliver a high-quality, sustainable building on an accelerated construction schedule. A typical building module includes multiple rooms, and most of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP), fixtures and interior finishes (including carpet, millwork, cabinetry, tile, trim and paint) are completed at the manufacturing site. PMC uses the same building materials as site-build construction, including light gauge steel framing, structural steel framing and wood framing as well as the same interior finish materials. The result is a final product that rivals site-built construction in durability, appearance and life span and is indistinguishable from a traditionally built structure. PMC produces buildings, including multi-story structures, with a level of quality, constructability and predictability that far exceeds typical conventional site-build capabilities.

An important benefit of PMC is that it shortens the construction schedule, making it possible for students to occupy PMC dorms in less time and for colleges to earn a return on their investment sooner. PMC is faster than site-built construction because the modular portions of the facility are built in the factory concurrently with the site and foundation work, reducing the construction time by at least a third. Factory-based construction also provides for enhanced quality control over the construction process and more efficient management of labor and materials. PMC increases predictability as well, removing many risks – such as weather delays, material theft or damage, and accidents – from the construction schedule.

There are many sustainable and green benefits to PMC because it relies on factory-based, lean manufacturing and construction methods. PMC allows the manufacturer to engineer a precise construction process so that nearly 100 percent of the construction waste is eliminated or recycled. Moving the majority of the construction into a manufacturing plant minimizes the amount of materials, workers and vehicles required at the job-site. As a result, PMC projects generate less air pollution at the construction site and require a far smaller lay-down area so there is less disruption to the natural environment. With less material storage and movement on-site, and very little construction waste, PMC job-sites are much cleaner than traditional job-sites. The reduced congestion also ensures the construction site and adjacent areas are safer for students and university staff.

There are long-term sustainable advantages to PMC as well. Testing has shown that PMC-built facilities out-perform traditionally constructed buildings on air barrier tests, which means that a PMC dormitory is more energy efficient. PMC creates tighter buildings because workers have access to all sides of each building module during construction, allowing them to surround the module with insulation and to seal around receptacles in walls, a common place for air leaks. In addition, all the pieces of the modules fit snuggly together by design, eliminating leaks between floor and wall joints. The result is a tight, energy-efficient structure, resulting in lower utility costs over the lifetime of the structure.

PMC is an excellent choice for a college and university campus expansion. Because fewer materials and construction personnel are needed on site and the construction footprint is smaller, it is ideal for a tight building site adjacent to existing structures on a crowded university campus. The faster construction timeline also means that the unavoidable disruptions and inconveniences of major construction are over sooner, and the work can often be completed over the summer break when the campus population is smaller. Finally, PMC creates a very strong, durable structure that can withstand the hard use a college dormitory receives and provide decades of service to a college community.

— Jim Snyder is director of operations for Warrior Group (, a commercial construction contractor and an advocate of using PMC to deliver buildings on an accelerated construction schedule. Contact Jim at 972-228-9955 or at [email protected].

You may also like