There has been a decision by the Texas Department of Insurance that directly impacts the use of portable classrooms by school districts in the fourteen counties that make up the coastal bend in south Texas. This decision removes one of the most important aspects for using a portable classroom building, namely its ability to be portable and relocated economically. This decision is based on the strictest interpretation of the International Building Code by the Department of Insurance. At the center of the issue is the lack of definition and thus acceptance of a building that uses a temporary foundation that does not conform to the established foundation requirements in the building code. The code assumes that all buildings are permanent unless they are classified as temporary, which the code then specifies a limit of use to 180 days.
Industrialized buildings are regulated by the requirements of Chapter 1202 of the Texas Occupations Code and the Industrialized Building Code Council, one of the many programs which are managed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The TDLR doesn’t have any regulatory agreements with the Department of Insurance, so each agency operates individually. After becoming effective in January of 1986, it was quickly realized that there had to be an exception to the code so that portable, site non-specific buildings could be re-located as needed. This was particularly critical for portable classrooms owned by leasing companies, since the majority of the buildings constructed under the program were site non-specific. So, the Industrialized Building Code Council made the decision to allow alternate types of foundation and anchoring systems on portable modular buildings as long as they could be engineered to support the building gravity and lateral loads. However, on site specific permanent buildings a foundation meeting the provisions of Chapter 18 of the building code would still be required.
For years the Department of Insurance accepted portable classroom buildings with alternate foundation and tie down systems, but in 2011 – and without warning – TDI started rejecting buildings primarily on the grounds that the foundation systems were not conforming to Chapter 18 of the code. This meant that the documents and inspections that were traditionally accepted by the TDI for issuing windstorm insurance were deemed no longer acceptable. The manager and the legal staff of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation reached out to the TDI in 2012 in an effort to find some common ground, especially in the area of in-plant inspections. This is an area where there is regulatory redundancy since both Departments require inspections. However, there was no agreement between the two parties and the TDI appeared to show no desire to modify their program in anyway.
The reluctance of the Texas Department of Insurance to allow portable classroom buildings to utilize alternate engineered foundation systems has the greatest impact on the schools in the fourteen Texas coastal counties. When you add in the cost of a required poured in place concrete foundation at every location that a portable classroom might be moved to, a large part of the value gained by having the flexibility to relocate the building is lost. This takes away a valuable tool that has a long history of benefiting Texas school districts.