Hex Pod Education Hub
With children having recently returned to school in September, McKinnon Park Secondary School in the Hamilton suburb of Caledonia, made history with its prototype installation of the Hex Pod Education Hub.
The installation, which is roughly 90 minutes away from Toronto, aims to be an ideal solution for small-group learning at a safe social distance for schools.
“This is the first innovation in portable classrooms in a quarter-century,” says architect Dan Wojcik, chief operating officer and head of the Ottawa studio at +VG Architects (The Ventin Group Ltd.), a full-service Ontario firm with a 50-year focus on education. “Our Hex Pod education hub boasts the most community-based, open, economical and simple systems solution for small-group learning at a safe social distance from congested school campuses,” he says. “And it’s economical enough to be mass-produced at commercial scale.”
The vivid blue and green Hex Pods, located on the lawn between the main building and the parking lot at McKinnon Park Secondary School, contrast against the existing domino sprawl of 12 portable classrooms.
The conjoined 954-sq.-ft. Pods open onto a 1,000-sq.-ft. wood-plank deck that is shaded by a canopy made of galvanized structural steel decking. The area doubles as an informal outdoor classroom, weather permitting. Construction on the project began in June 2022 and was completed in time for the official opening on the first day of school, Sep. 5, 2023, and on budget: $1,006,134.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, “portables” served as a safety valve. “They were the only practical way to relieve the classroom overcrowding that safe social distancing would otherwise have caused,” said Wojcik. “In short order, there was a demand for more space.”
Portable classrooms are typically 25-by-30-foot fluorescent-lit boxes which have earned a bad reputation. Once seen as a quick fix for overcrowded schools in the U.S. and Canada, now appears to present unintended long-term costs in dollars as well as children’s health since they tend to become permanent.
Their dark interiors become dank and mouldy, due to concrete plinths splaying and vapour barriers failing, which could sometimes trigger asthma.Insufficient fresh-air exchange can cause students to sit in high levels of their own carbon dioxide by the end of the day, which can lead to fatigue.
Studies have shown that as CO2 levels rise, student performance fails. Other factos to consider are the likely buildup of harmful airborne substances including dust, allergens and volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde off-gassing from paint, furniture and carpeted floors.
“Sending teachers back to a room after the pandemic for six hours a day with poor or no ventilation and not enough space for social distancing was really the pitfall of Ontario’s back-to-school plan,” said Wojcik.
Wojcik thought of the defects of traditional portables while gazing at the honeycomb in the jar of honey in his office’s servery.
This prompted an idea which led to the sketch of an outline for a prefabricated, rapidly deployable, sustainable portable.
The system is built around 120-degree, rather than traditional 90-degree corners so that installations of various Pods cluster into honeycombs as opposed to grids. The hexagonal form is an efficient way to wrap a space with the least material.
“When you sit in a box, you are either up against the wall or facing a corner. In a Hex Pod, you sit amid the flowing, organic geometry of ‘open arms,’” said Wojcik.
Pods can be erected individually or in clusters near schools on existing sites. “Our Pod can expand beyond the single-module model of the portable, so that you get a richer physical environment than you would inside a rectilinear portable.”