Williams Scotsman

From Lease to Delivery: A Customer’s Perspective on Portable Classrooms

Magellan International School, Austin, Texas

The middle school students at Magellan International School, a non-profit private school in Austin, Texas focused on inspiring creativity, innovation and global-readiness, had outgrown their classrooms.

“The previous classrooms were nestled within the primary program, so the older students needed a space that was different and more mature – one that they felt was all their own,” said Crystal Estrada, Magellan’s Director of Finance and Operations. “Out of necessity and a lack of space, we knew we would have to use portable classrooms, but the traditional portable was not going to work.”

As the school’s administrators began the planning process for the 2016-17 school year, they wanted a space that showcased student learning and helped build community – a place where rising middle school students would look forward to coming to every day.

Estrada knew WillScot as an industry leader and a trusted provider of portable classrooms for Magellan in the past, so there was no question about tapping them for this project.

AS Flex: A Modular Classroom Solution

In browsing the William Scotsman website, Estrada happened to see the Flex product. Because the school wanted space that felt modern, bright and innovative, she was drawn to the Flex Units which could be customized to fit their needs. In September 2015, she reached out to WillScot and began a yearlong conversation that culminated in the installation of the Flex units, which ultimately challenged the way the community perceived modular classrooms.

The school had leased portable classrooms from William Scotsman in the past for space needs at its preschool campus, as well as for office space at its primary campus. However, this was an entirely different need. While WillScot’s standard classrooms are delivered and set up without need for customization, Estrada said the school wanted to ensure the design of the unit fit growing needs by showcasing learning in the classroom, providing ample natural lighting for optimal learning, and by creating a space that was bright and modern.

“Simply put, the space had to feel fresh and innovative; it had to inspire community and feel like a value-add at our current price point for Middle School tuition,” Estrada explained. “Based on student and parent feedback to date, I would say that we were successful in accomplishing this task.”

Estrada said that designing the Flex Units with WillScot was “the most fun, creative and easiest part of the process -- from adding a balcony on the second floor to adding floor-to-ceiling vinyl overlay walls, which students use for visual thinking; choosing balcony railings to selecting floor-to-ceiling windows for maximum amounts of natural light – they (WillScot) understood our need to push boundaries on what people consider ‘normal’ in classroom portables.”

Along the way, there were two major points of difficulty. The first complexity arose after financial constraints forced the scope of the project to change from 18 to 12 Flex units. “It was disappointing to see the original plan reduced in size from two sets of units looking out over each other, to one set,” said Estrada. WillScot worked with the school to ensure the scaled-back project stayed within budget and still met the space needs.

Delivering Modular Classrooms & Acquiring Permits

The second unexpected issue had to do with getting a permit, since the Flex units were originally coded for business use. WillScot had to work with the engineer to ensure the units were coded for educational use and would pass inspection in Texas.

“I can’t tell you enough how supportive they were during this three-week timeframe, which delayed our opening date,” said Estrada. “But I will say it made me a lifelong William Scotsman customer and fan.”

How did Estrada prepare for delivery? “I went on vacation! Sincerely, I trusted the team despite giving them an impossible deadline, and they delivered,” said Estrada.

The foundation, although solid asphalt, was not flat. Estrada said the school decided to align the foundation with their sports court, a concrete slab approximately 30” off the ground. A pier and beam foundation was used to raise the units on level with the court. From there, a wrap-around deck made of treated pine was installed to provide wheelchair access to the first floor from the court and to create an outdoor learning space and community area for students.

To arrange utility service, a master electrician updated the electrical plans to extend service to the new units. The school then subcontracted the rough-in and installation of the electrical and data services.  

Estrada suggests starting the permitting process as soon as possible, or at least three months in advance of the “drop-dead” date, explaining, “We submitted our paperwork in June 2016 for our Site Plan Exemption, and unfortunately did not receive approval until September 2016. We’re crossing our fingers now on the permit and hope to have it within the next two weeks.”

According to Estrada, watching the units being installed was quite interesting. “It was also exciting to see the community’s faces as the units started to arrive one by one over the summer,” she said, with the team carefully setting each unit with a forklift until the 12 Flex units became two classrooms, two modular offices, and a balcony.

“Windows were popped in and sealed, the stairs put into place, and voilà, it was complete,” she said. “Looking back, it really did happen that fast – delivery of the units started on July 7 and the units were set by July 15.”

In terms of insurance, the leasing of the Flex units was a large financial investment for the school, so getting insurance to cover any damage to these learning spaces was crucial.

“We already have plans to add an additional 6-12 units next summer if enrollment continues to grow,” said Estrada. “The bonus is that we already have an approved site plan exemption for the future units, and will definitely start the permitting process sooner.” 

Why Trust WillScot For Your Modular Classroom Needs?

A few final words of wisdom from Estrada: “I cannot stress how important it is to plan for the worst when it comes to permits … Consider your location and submit for permit as early as possible. Additionally, I highly recommend the floor-to-ceiling windows. Although it is an investment, natural light is vital to student learning and has been proven to make students more efficient, improve student test scores, eliminate common distractions, and it improves student health and growth overall. Lastly, I’d like to encourage all educators to choose the modular units over traditional portable classrooms. We, as educators, need to continue to redefine our learning spaces, think beyond the standard classroom walls and support innovative designs which reduce our footprint on the Earth and challenge the norms. This risk-taking and focus on innovation models the behavior we want in our future generations.”

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