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Portakabin sets its sights on education market

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Portakabin has embarked on a marketing campaign to shift the perception of the company to one which looks for quality, permanent architectural solutions via modular buildings, especially in the potentially lucrative 'early years' education market.

The company, which employs a full-time trademark officer to prevent the name Portakabin being used as a pejorative generic term, is seeking credibility for its modular building methods, particularly in the light of the Egan report, 'Rethinking Construction'. After initiating a relationship with architects by sponsoring the riba's Portable Architecture exhibition in 1997, it has worked with Cottrell + Vermeulen on developing two designs for modular nursery and primary schools, the former scooping both a Civic Trust award - the first for a modular prefab building - and Millennium Product status. The New Millennium Experience Company, which is compiling a list of such products, has not yet informed Portakabin whether or not it is to exhibit the school design in the Millennium Dome, but Portakabin intends to submit its primary designs for the same award.

Andy Atkins, Portakabin's marketing director, said the firm was attracting a great deal of interest from architects who were looking into modular construction in the light of Egan's call for innovation and the rethinking of construction techniques. Portakabin was, he said, targeting health and education, the former via pfi and the latter through Cottrell + Vermeulen's brightly coloured Lilliput nursery-school scheme and larger Akademy primary- school design. 'We want to be the premier building suppliers in education,' he said.

The Lilliput nursery, launched a year ago and developed through collaborations with the dfee, costs just £55,000 to build, exclusive of foundation work but inclusive of transportation costs. The first - for St Alban's Catholic primary school in Harlow - has been followed by three more around the country. Atkins reports 'intense' interest in the buildings. He said the government's requirement for 'after-school clubs' was another opportunity, as were enquiries from private firms about on-site creche facilities.

Atkins said the 106m2, £65,000 Akademy was the next 'logical' development in line with new curriculum requirements. The first was built in Colchester for occupation after Easter. Similar work on secondary schools or other education sectors has not been ruled out.

'It's a major opportunity for us. We've placed the focus of our research and development on education to change the perception of what we're about,' Atkins said.

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