The architects and fabricators that formed the six-year-old Project Frog were tired of mediocre modular buildings. Their idea was to work out a kit-of-parts system that would offer the benefits of off-site construction but eliminate its limitations: weak design, caused mostly by trucking restrictions.
"Traditional modular spaces are constrained by transportation," says Ann Hand, Project Frog's president and CEO. "We don't feel people thrive in a box with eight-foot ceilings." Through its system of components—flat-packed and trucked to the site—Project Frog found a way for architects to design better spaces, she adds.
The goal is to provide a fast and cost-effective way for architects and builders "to create beautiful and energy-efficient buildings," says the company. For starters, that means ideally sized classrooms with 13-ft to 14-ft-high ceilings and lots of natural light.
Flat-packed components are assembled on-site from their kits. Only the bathroom pods are volumetric.
Project Frog works with its favorite suppliers to teach them its system. The firm's most recent offering, called Impact, caters to larger school districts and multistory solutions. Schools cost about $250 per sq ft, compared to about $350 per sq ft for conventional construction, says Hand.
In the past year, the company has supplied 85,000 sq ft of schools. It has more than 250,000 sq ft under construction or in contract for next summer's construction window.
One recent charter-school client—the El Sol Science and Arts Academy in Santa Ana, Calif.—is so satisfied with its first 19,000-sq-ft, 12-classroom building, opened in January, that it just ordered a 28-classroom building. "There was some risk, but they were paired with an experienced builder, Bernards, and we're the kind of place willing to try new ideas in a responsible way," says Monique Daviss, El Sol's executive director. "It turned out to be everything they said it would be, and we're going to do it again."
El Sol's first building had a $5-million price tag. A big driver, other than cost and design, was speed, says Daviss. And the school wanted a sustainable building, with spaces conducive to learning.
Rick Willison, Bernards' project manager, was skeptical about the kit system at first, until he saw almost the entire first floor framed in one week. He is now a believer—so much so that he currently works for Project Frog as a preconstruction manager.
"Subs, general contractors and owners tell us we are doing something right," Willison says. "The passion that drove me to the company is still alive."