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Recyclable school building makes the grade

Eco-certification awarded to prefab California classroom building that's 100 percent recyclable and made almost entirely of recycled materials.

A Gen7 School at Bolsa Knolls Middle School in Salinas, Calif. American Modular Systems

Could prefab structures be a quick and cost-saving way to get U.S. students out of dilapidated and energy-sucking schools?

A recent award to a Gen7 school building, made by American Modular Systems, seems to signal that modular classrooms have moved beyond being ad hoc building solutions for developing nations.

For the first time in California, a prefab building has been awarded national Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) certification for new school construction. CHPS certification is awarded to those schools that meet specific health, comfort, maintenance, and environmental sustainability standards.

"The Gen7 classroom proves that a prefab structure can achieve the same desired high performance results as a conventional building," CHPS Executive Director Bill Orr said in a statement.

The Bolsa Knolls Middle School in Salinas, Calif., which has added a Gen7 school building that will house classrooms, met the CHPS requirements. The building will hold six classrooms totaling 5,760 square feet, and it reportedly will exceed the California Title 24 Energy Code by more than 30 percent. The permanent structure was designed and built in about 60 days, according to Gen 7.

Features of the building include: smart lighting, Energy Star-rated tubular skylights, thermal ventilation, and interiors made from low- and no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials. The building is 100 percent recyclable, and made almost entirely of recycled materials.

Whether the idea takes off across the nation remains to be seen, but some California school districts, at least, seem to be interested. In addition to Bolsa Knolls, the Santa Rita Union School District has ordered eight Gen7 classrooms and a restroom facility slated for installation in June 2011, according to American Modular Systems.