The mention of “portable” classrooms—or any similar term—puts fear into the hearts of parents with school-age children. Regardless of whether you call them portable, modular, or temporary classrooms, they conjure up unwelcome images of shoebox-like structures with few windows, stuffy air, and noisy and ineffective mechanical systems. But now several design firms, nonprofit organizations, and prefab building companies are developing improved portable classrooms that address these problems and allow schools to expand quickly and sustainably.
Although there isn't much current literature addressing the performance of portable classrooms, older research supports this dubious reputation. One study conducted in 2004 by the California Air Resources Board and the state's Department of Health Services found a much higher instance of environmental problems in the relocatable units as compared with permanently built school buildings. The investigation documented conditions such as inadequate ventilation, excessive noise, poor thermal comfort, low lighting levels, and high concentrations of formaldehyde.