New High-Quality Classrooms – Package 2: Modular/ DfMA Construction

Project Introduction

As part of the NSW government’s $6.7 billion investment into education, Northrop provided engineering services for three new public primary schools which will accommodate a total of 2420 students. Two of these schools are located in Sydney’s west, while the other is located in Wagga Wagga. This new package of schools includes Denham Court Public School, Barramurra Public School, and Estella Public School.

Each school features around 40 flexible learning spaces, a library, hall, canteen, administration and staff facilities, a COLA, as well as outdoor multi-purpose learning areas.

Innovation Using Modular, Volumetric Construction

SINSW are increasingly looking to use modular construction methods to build new schools or add to existing schools. Modular construction has a number of project benefits, the main benefit being rapid construction – to ensure minimal disruption to students and teachers, the window of opportunity might only be 6-7 weeks over the holiday period to add (or add to) a school. When using modular construction methods, this becomes an achievable timeframe. 

The building structures for all 3 of these schools were primarily of modular, volumetric construction, consisting of three 3-storey modular buildings supplied by Modular Building Systems (MBS), located in Sydney. Northrop’s structural team designed, documented and certified the modules themselves as well as the foundations, in-situ library and admin buildings and structural steel hall and COLA. 

DfMA applications were also adopted elsewhere on the sites including light gauge steel trusses, precast concrete elements and light gauge panelised walls to limit works undertaken on site. 

Challenges and Resolutions – Logistics  

One of the biggest project challenges for the team to collectively overcome, (typical of most modular constructions), was logistics. Traditionally, buildings are designed in-situ with construction being completed with site-based labour. However, in modular construction, the majority of the building is constructed off-site, with components delivered to site when they’re ready, and when they’re needed. Design consideration needs to not only be given to getting the parts to site, but also to loading on to trucks, maximum transportable heights and widths, stability during transport and off-loading and lifting (cranage) on site. Good planning of these logistics considerations is critical for successful execution on site.

Northrop worked closely with MBS to provide logistics design and advice including: designing a temporary structure to provide building components with stability during transport; designing additional temporary columns so that building components could be safety lifted and loaded on to the back of the truck; carrying out lifting studies to determine building weight for safe cranage.

Challenges and Resolutions – Design Requirements  

In addition to designing to National Construction Code, BCA and Australian Standards, the design of school facilities needs to follow the Educational Facilities Standards and Guidelines (EFSG). The temporary transport structures needed to get building components safely to site created additional challenges to ensuring compliance to the EFSG standards. Northrop carried out numerous design workshops with MBS and the architect to help get these designs through the different gateways of SINSW.

Project Outcomes

The new schools, constructed in extremely condensed timeframes, provide modern, innovative and flexible learning spaces for 2420 students collectively. School Infrastructure NSW were incredibly pleased with these projects and are using the adaptable pedagogy design of Barramurra Public School as their “reference design” on other school projects (some of which Northrop are working on). Replication of this design will allow the project team to utilise valuable “lessons learnt” from previous projects and create consistency and equality across school facilities, no matter where they are located.

The Future

Northrop consider ourselves to be industry leaders in modular construction, having been involved in the delivery of these types of projects for a number of years (we played a key role in the delivery of one of Australia’s first three-storey fully modular schools, as well as acting as engineering consultants for the first public school in NSW delivered using DfMA methods). We are looking forward to continuing to grow our capability and experience in this area as this once relatively niche construction method, becomes more mainstream.   

Images all courtesy of Ben Guthrie 

Client Name
Hansen Yuncken / Schools Infrastructure NSW
Construction Value
$115 million

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