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Vallejo's iMod Structures earns quake-resiliency certification for modular classrooms

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iMod Structures just received certification that its heavy-steel-framed relocatable, stackable buildings tailored to schools would be able to ride out severe earthquakes and be back in operation quickly.

This validation comes as the startup manufacturer plans to significantly staff up its 100,000-square-foot factory on Vallejo’s Mare Island to produce classrooms to fill current orders and a potential wave of projects if California voters in March approve a $15 billion school construction bond. It’s the biggest such bond in state history, with half aimed at K-12 campuses and an emphasis on seismic upgrades.

The manufacturer was granted the highest level of earthquake certification — Platinum — offered by the U.S. Resiliency Council, the company announced this week. Platinum-level rating means the building would sustain less than 5% damage and be open again within a few days of major quake, according to the organization.

iMod's is the first modular building system aimed at the education market to achieve Platinum level since the council four years ago launched its rating system through which certifying engineers evaluate how well a structure would be able to bounce back from calamities. Dozens. The first Platinum rating was issued for Roseville City Hall in 2016.

Launched in 2018 originally as Intermodal Structures and infused with $11 million in funding earlier this year, iMod delivered 12 of the 40-foot-long, 320-square-foot modules for a Southern California school district office. iMod purchases its secret seismic sauce — the steel moment frame — from a foundry in China and integrates in high-tech heating and ventilation systems, panelized walls and audio-visual systems from other manufacturers. The frame wall panel window system is designed to allow movement of 2 inches in any direction without breaking the windows.

Ninety percent of the work on the modules is done before they leave the factory, according to co-founder Craig Severance.

“When we deliver to the site, we can install 10 classrooms over a weekend,” he said. “We have control of quality because so much work is done in our factory by our employees.”

Now in the factory are units for five classrooms at Mare Island Technology Academy charter school, and iMod may bid to build up to 42 more classrooms there. The company also just won bids for six classrooms in the Sacramento area and four classrooms at a school nearby, Severance said.

Currently, the time from purchase order to delivery can be as quick as five months, depending on approval of the project site by the state Department of the State Architect and the school’s financing, he said.

The production goal is to produce one classroom a day in about one year’s time, and to do that it will take an increase in factory workers from a dozen now to about 90, Severance said.

The cost of the modular classrooms has moved up to roughly $350-$400 a square foot for single-story classrooms installed, not including cost of transportation and construction of the foundation, which can vary considerably. Going up in height triggers requirements for elevators, which increases the cost.

Despite the higher price per square foot than other manufacturers in school construction, iMod has won the three classroom bids it’s pursued so far, according to Severance.

“In California and especially in urban areas, the combination of features and price point is attractive,” he said. The company expects to be cash-flow positive this year.

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