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Opening up the classroom

Case Studies | August 1, 2021 | By:

For schools, the challenge of delivering quality learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic has generated numerous approaches to creating safe environments.

Transformit Inc. was asked by the Portland, Maine, school district to provide quotes for dozens of outdoor classrooms. “The CARES Act had provided the township with a budget to work with, and they needed to research the best places to invest their resources,” says Cindy Thompson, founder of Transformit, Gorham, Maine. More than a dozen great ideas for getting the students out of the buildings were discussed. Some included bringing cafeterias outside with large shade structures to cover the dining tables, large shade structures over the entire elementary playground, little “camp-like” structures suspended between trees in the woods and a covered roof garden area on the second story of the middle school.

“With time against us,” says Thompson, “we had to prioritize what we could actually design, fabricate, engineer and install within a month’s time.” The most practical designs involved three-, four- and five-point shade sails. All of Transformit’s quotes involved concrete footings for steel poles with through bolts drilled into brick walls and fastened to steel I-beams. The design and fabrication ensure that the structures can withstand a sudden squall, afternoon thunderstorm or even hurricanes. Teaming up with Duvall Design Inc., Transformit built shelters that were as simplified as possible to make setup and takedown by school staff as foolproof as feasible. 

“For the areas that were designed to be attached to the sides of buildings, we chose five-point wings. These are the most cost-effective structures for the amount of shade that they provide,” says Thompson. Putting two rig points on the high side of a building means only one pole with its foundation is needed for a very secure structure. The district was so taken by how effective the shelters were, it came back to Transformit and Duvall for a second round of shelters.

Project data

Client: Portland Public Schools, Portland, Maine

Fabricators/designers: Transformit Inc., Gorham, Maine, and Duvall Design Inc., Rockland, Maine

Fabric: Comtex®, heavy-duty knitted shade cloth from Polyfab, various colors

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