Out-of-the-Box Student Housing

by Katie Sloan

PHILADELPHIA — The largest modular building in Philadelphia was constructed in less than one year.

Diamond Green, 350 beds across from Temple University’s practice football field and adjacent to the Temple Regional Rail Station, opens to students in August 2012. PHILADELPHIA — The area surrounding Temple University is not well-known for being the cleanest and safest place to reside. But a new modular student housing building is part of the city’s sweep to improve the blighted area. Diamond Green, developed by Orens Brothers Real Estate, is a five-story structure with retail and restaurants on the first floor and 350 beds in 92 furnished units on the floors above.

The building cost was $20 million, a big savings in this ZIP code say some of the project’s key players. Modular buildings come in ready-to-go, factory made units, or boxes, which are quickly connected on site.

“The modular units coming out of our plant cost approximately $50 per square foot,” says Rob Wilkinson, director of engineering for Professional Building Systems (PBS), the company that manufactured, delivered and installed the 116 modular units. “For a stick- or site-built building, the total cost would have been up to $9 million more.”

Trucks hauled the modular units from the PBS plant in Middlesburg, Pa., to Philadelphia, and a crane lifted them off, where a crew of about 8 people were waiting to join them into a single structure. The units came from the factory with the electrical, duct and plumbing systems already in place. Even the furniture was inside the boxes as they were lifted onto the foundation.

“We connect the units, bring power and plumbing to the building, do a little light touch up work, and they’re ready to go,” Wilkinson says.

Four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a common area fit into one module. Four different variations of a kitchen fit into a different box.

“Construction began in January, and the building will be ready for move-in by early July,” said William French, president of PBS. “That would compare to 12 to 18 months for stick built. We think this is going to be a very pleasant building for students to live in.”

— Lynn Peisner


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