Vallejo startup Intermodal Structures builds heavy duty, high tech into modular classrooms, offices
Vallejo’s Mare Island has been attracting modular construction companies in recent years, but Intermodal Structures is taking a more simplified approach to large-scale production.
Rather than stick-build residential dwellings with wood or metal studs as is being done in the hulking former Navy submarine periscope factory across the street on the island’s waterfront, Intermodal Structures is taking a hybrid approach to manufacturing, according to co-founder Craig Severance.
“Rather than being vertically integrated, we outsource manufacturing of components with lower margin, but retain design, sales, marketing and assembly of higher-margin components,” Severance said.
A supplier in Shanghai welds together a frame with the dimensions of a standard 40-foot-long, 320-square-foot oceangoing shipping container, sans the corrugated metal siding typical of them. The frames arrive in the Port of Oakland and are trucked to the Mare Island warehouse at 251 Bagley St., subleased from XKT Engineering. Once there, the modules are decked out with mechanical and electrical systems, including specially designed ductwork and high-end audio-visual equipment.
“These are not shipping containers, but they can be loaded inside one,” Severance said.
Part of the company’s strategy is to make the modules “future proof.” That means to design them to be truly relocatable, reconfigurable and reusable. Each iMod moment frame has 6 tons of heavy steel, allowing the modules to be connected together horizontally and vertically, up to two high. Strength of the frame allows for modules to be installed without walls, creating columnless rooms, terraces and atriums. But integral to the strength of shipping containers are the metal shear walls, so additional framing has to be added if holes are cut in the siding.
Intermodal Structures recently moved into the Mare Island factory and is working to outfit a six-module, two-story office building to the Long Beach Unified School District, the third-largest in California. The modules are set to be ready to ship this month, but the site pad is not expected to be available for delivery until September, Severance said.
This is one of several buildings the company has constructed in its nine-year history, but the project represents a renewed marketing focus on education, health care, hospitality and insurance markets, Severance said.
“One in six Californians spend time in classrooms, so that’s a vertical ripe for exploration,” he said.
It’s estimated that 12 percent of the 960 public school districts in California will need to replace $22 billion in classrooms in the next five years.
The company is approaching school districts with large numbers of aging relocatable classrooms, promoting the ability to add and remove classrooms vertically or horizontally in a few days. One-story classroom buildings can be converted into two stories, and vice versa. The modules going to Long Beach have been relocated nine times in the past six years, for different applications on East and West coasts, Severance said.
The California Division of the State Architect, which approves school designs, in March of this year issued a project certification for Intermodal Structures’s one- and two-story relocatable classroom buildings, with four classrooms and terrace modules on each floor. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest district in the nation, has approved Intermodal Structures and another company to seek contracts to replace about 5,000 relocatables, or over 5 million share feet.
Such classrooms and school offices can be outfitted for around $200 a square foot and assembled on site in two hours. The company can quote such low numbers by outsourcing much of the manufacturing and focusing on high-volume contracts, rather than vertically integrating production onsite and selling modules individually, Severance said.