Metal School Buildings and Educational Facilities: Why Steel is the Smart Choice

Published December 9, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

steel school buildings

Fast-growing school populations, the need for quick and economical construction, and tighter building budgets are just a few of the challenges facing the educational sector today. After the Baby Boom large numbers of schools were built to accommodate all the children of those coming back from World War II. As those children graduated, fewer schools were needed and many were closed or are aging. Now, as the children of Boomers and Generations X and Y are swelling the population, new schools are needed again.

However, the requirements of an educational facility, from nursery school to university, have changed since that first huge wave of Boomers. Schools must be safer, provide more flexibility and services, and cost less to build yet be built quickly. Concrete, stone, and wood construction is no longer a viable choice.

Build your educational facility with steel

Steel is the most advanced durable material in construction today. Steel is the choice for new buildings in nearly every industry. There are many good reasons for that.

Adaptability and flexibility

First of all, steel buildings allow adaptable and flexible designs, much more so than other construction materials. Architects and building engineers have the freedom to design a metal building in almost any way imaginable. Spatial planning for any use is simplified.

Steel facilities can also be designed for maximum adaptability. Metal buildings are easily changed as the need arises. Internal walls can be relocated to change the floor plan to accommodate different uses. Long span construction allows for more open space than traditional materials; column-free spaces can be up to 330 feet across. Arena football!

You can start with a smaller space and quickly add on by opening an end wall, extending the existing walls, and then replacing the end wall to enclose more space. Need multiple smaller rooms? Reverse the order and move the internal walls.

Acoustical performance

Next, metal construction provides exceptional acoustic performance. Vibration control and acoustical changes are easily achieved through placing materials in and around the metal structure. Metal framework is ideal for placing different types of material such as insulation, which also addresses utility efficiency as well as fire safety.

Utilities and services

Metal educational facilities provide space for numerous services without sacrificing style or space. For example, modern classrooms and information technology labs need ways to provide power and telecommunications to a wide variety of devices now used in schools.

Steel construction makes it easy to install drop ceilings and elevated floors with plenty of space for wiring. Wireless technology still needs the support of wired technology; schools now have rooms full of servers and routers plugged into electrical and telecommunications outlets. In addition, services and service outlets can be moved or replaced with little disruption.

Serve schools at every level

Consider the many types of schools and educational structures.

  • Nursery schools
  • Primary or elementary schools
  • Middle and high schools
  • Colleges and universities

Each meets the needs of a different segment of the community and may have very different design requirements, but the heart of each is best built using the flexibility of steel.

A nursery school is a world away from a college campus yet the need for fire safety unites them. Both must be energy efficient, provide plenty of fresh air and natural light, and protect the students from the elements.

However, as children progress through each facility their needs, and the building designs, change. Nursery schools are typically smaller single storey buildings with several larger rooms plus bathrooms, changing rooms, and small kitchens. As the grade level increases, so does the need for different sizes and types of rooms.

At the university level, buildings are not limited to classrooms. University campuses also include student housing, theaters, gymnasiums, and offices. Dormitories, lecture halls, and administrative spaces are part of the university experience and steel can be used to build it all.

Challenges in building metal schools

There are challenges to every project; on the educational front, the main challenges are these:

  • Strict performance targets shaped by regulatory requirements.
  • Short deadlines for completion
  • Proximity of existing buildings

The most stringent requirements in educational facilities have to do with safety: fire prevention and resistance plus health and safety. Building requirements mandate the use of noncombustible materials, fire suppressive insulation, and plans for quick, efficient escape.

Timelines and deadlines for completing an educational facility are typically planned around the academic year or must be complete by the beginning of school in the fall. For some schools the project must be completed within the three month summer break. Many university buildings must be completed within 14 months, other school buildings allow only 12 months.

Construction on a school campus brings its own issues. Working near existing buildings that are in use requires heightened safety measures as well as superior noise suppression. Being on an active campus can also create issues with delivery and storage of components.

Types of construction in educational facilities

Braced Frame

A common type of construction found in steel buildings is the braced frame. Bracing is placed around stairs and within internal walls. X-brace frames are often incorporated around building cores and in brickwork cavity walls. The X-frame may also be used as a decorative design in open framework areas. The K or V brace uses hollow sections and allows efficient formation of frame openings such as windows.

Light Steel Framing

Alternatively, some low rise buildings use moment-resistant connections between the beams and the columns to eliminate bracing altogether. Best for small buildings, light steel framing can be used as a load bearing structure for smaller buildings but can also be used in certain student residences.

Light steel framing is excellent for building extensions, especially roof top extensions in which one or two extra floors are added to an existing building. The lower weight makes light steel framing a safer choice.

Light steel framing provides the flexibility required of modern buildings. Frames and walls are easily relocated to meet future needs as well as provide more effective thermal and acoustic insulation and fire resistance.

Cellular Beams

Cellular beams are often specified for the long spans required in large open spaces such as auditoriums and gymnasiums. A cellular beam is a long span beam with circular holes along the length that can be very decorative, especially for ceilings without acoustic tile or other coverings.

Modular Construction

Steel building materials lend themselves extremely well to modular construction. Modules are premanufactured off-site where cladding, ventilation, and lighting can be preinstalled prior to delivery. Modular building minimizes disruption and limits the amount of onsite construction to be completed.

Most building modules are about three to three and a half meters wide so they can be transported on public roadways and to make installation easier. Classrooms can be constructed of modules opening up to a 12 meter span with open sides. Three to four modules can be placed side by side to create a larger room.

While modular construction is generally used for buildings of one to two storeys, you can build up to six storeys with a separate framing system for open sided or open ended modules. Modular construction is especially popular for student housing. If you use load bearing modules a residence can have up to 12 storeys with bracing or concrete cores.

Costs associated with metal educational buildings

A typical construction budget looks like this:

  • 30-40% raw material costs
  • 30-40% fabrication costs
  • 10-15% construction costs

Cost is determined from the function of the building, the educational sector it serves, and the designed height of the facility. In addition, nearby population and building density may incur costs not seen in open jobsite areas. Site conditions, building design, and procurement/delivery routes are considerations as well. The economy, of course, has a part in determining costs.

Steel is still the best value, saving your budget up to 50% on construction costs when compared to other materials. Not only is it easily prefabricated and transported, steel is safer in any environmental. It is resistant earthquakes, strong winds, fire, and severe weather. Change in use does not require teardown and rebuild. Simply move the walls.

Benefits of steel

There is no other material as durable over the long haul as steel. It is proof against fire, weather, and other environmental factors. Steel is also an eminently sustainable material. Steel is reclaimed from demolished buildings and recycled into new construction, eliminating scrap and the need for raw material.

Steel construction does not mean ugly buildings. On the contrary, steel prefabrication gives you a broad palette of panel finishes and colors to match any design. Steel buildings are not limited to box-like structures and grey walls. Whether you want brick-look façade or colors matched to the rest of the campus, you can use steel to achieve it.

Steel buildings have:

  • Low lifetime maintenance requirements
  • Fire resistance
  • Lower insurance premiums
  • Easy pre-manufacture and delivery
  • Quick construction
  • Lower utility costs

A metal building is an excellent foundation for a cool roof easily outfitted with skylights and solar tubes to increase natural light. This decreases the need for lighting during the day, an additional way of lowering energy costs while providing the best learning environment.

With these kinds of benefits, there is no better choice than steel for building your next educational facility.

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