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Mantecas American Modular Systems breaks green ground
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Having temporary modular classrooms on campus is the norm for many public schools in the United States.

But they are something special for at least one school site in Monterey County. That’s the Bolsa Knolls Middle School in Salinas where the so-called Gen7 modular schools are now in place, being enjoyed by the sixth- and seventh-grade students.

“They have, right now, six fully operational green classrooms,” said Maggie Hartley of American Modular Systems, the company that manufactures the state-of-the-art, cutting-edge and eco-friendly classrooms.

American Modular Systems happens to be headquartered here in Manteca, with its main plant located in a relatively new building on Spreckels Avenue, plus a 10-acre property on South Main Street in Manteca’s Industrial Park.

The six Gen7 modulars delivered to the Salinas school in Monterey County at the start of the school year in August were just the first phase of a series of green portable classrooms that will be found at this site.

A prototype of the building is, in fact, on display at American Modular’s facility in Manteca. It is visible to motorists driving by Spreckels Avenue – it’s on the west side of the road – between Yosemite Avenue and Moffat Boulevard. It’s 30x32 feet or a total of 960 square feet.

“Nine-hundred square feet in San Francisco is considered a mansion, I think,” Hartley said jokingly.

“But that’s just that particular model. They can come in a variety of sizes. We can go all the way to 120 feet if somebody wants to use it for a laboratory or library. It has multiple purposes,” she pointed out.

Right now, however, the environmentally friendly structures are being marketed to school districts – to K-12 campuses, higher education levels, and early development childhood preschools, even some local centers and libraries, Hartley said.

“Our biggest thing is creating healthy environments focused on saving energy, eliminating toxins and pollution,” she said.

The company also spent a lot of time in developing a structure with excellent acoustics so that “when you’re in the back of the room you can still hear the teacher.”

The classroom is built in such a way that it eliminates outside noise, the better for the students to concentrate on their lessons.

Huge windows also bring a lot of natural light inside thereby minimizing energy consumption and lowering utility bills.

“We try to design them so that they don’t require a lot of maintenance, like painting. No paint is used. And you won’t find a lot of things that you have to replace, things that will cost you operations and maintenance. Those will cost a lot less,” Hartley said.

“It’s really ideal for learning,” added Hartley of the Gen7 portable classrooms.

MUSD, American Modular Partners in green environment
So much so that the Manteca Unified School District has partnered with the progressive-thinking American Modular  Systems in its bid to become part of California’s effort in becoming a national leader in environmental literacy. The state made the move to become the country’s environmental leader in education with the launching of the landmark Education and Environment Initiative (EEI) Curriculum this fall. Chosen to be the first district in the state to implement this first-in-the-nation environmental curriculum is the Manteca Unified School District.

In fact, the first 30 teachers under this new program will receive their training on Dec. 16 at – where else – American Modular on Spreckels Avenue inside the Gen7 prototype modular classroom. The featured speaker at this training event, according to an announcement from the school district office, will be actor and activist Ed Begley, Jr.

That won’t be the first time that the school district will leave its footprint at the Gen7 modular classroom. A group of 40 sixth-grade students claimed that honor when American Modular hosted them during a field trip in October when they learned how to become environmental stewards of their respective school campuses.

“They came to the plant to learn how to recycle materials, to use and to create a sustainable classroom,” Hartley said.

“In a lot of ways, our green classroom is an ideal learning environment for students. (The building) incorporates healthy materials – no toxic materials are used. A lot of the materials are recycled, and it is energy-efficient,” she explained.

In the long run, the energy savings and reduced maintenance costs can save a lot of money.

“It’s a pretty neat building,” Hartley added.

With all those pluses, it’s no wonder many people are interested in knowing if American Modular Systems also builds houses.

“Do you make houses, too? Can you turn this into a house? We get asked that question a lot,” Hartley said with a laugh. “But right now, we don’t do houses.”

But perhaps with just one little exception: they’re building the boss’s house in the factory, and it will be everything like the environmentally friendly portables that the company is widely known for.

Modular classrooms 90 percent complete when they leave plant
Hartley said all the portable classrooms are built at the company’s North Main Street 10-acre site.

“We build everything there,” she said. And the classrooms are shipped from that location.

When they leave the company’s facility in Manteca, the classrooms are “90 percent complete” with every amenity such as cabinets and shelves in place, Hartley said.

A lot of care also goes toward the delivery of the huge cargos.

“We have our own trucks that will transport Gent to school sites. We ship them all. We only ship in California, for that reason,” Hartley said.

The Gen7 prototype is actually in three pieces, and that’s how they are transported – but that varies depending on the type being transported.

“That particular one (Gen7) is shipped in modulars and put together on site. We do everything in-house, from design and delivery to installation and testing and maintenance,” Hartley said.

While Gen 7 was launched just last year, it was the culmination of three years of research and development, she said.