Mexican School Built With Shipping Containers

Case Studies

mexican school built with shipping containers

Following the success of our other interviews, we bring another interview today with Fernando Saldain from Montessori La Milpa.

Fernando is the Founder of Montessori La Milpa, which is a primary school based in Ensenada, Mexico.

He has an incredible story. The school is primarily built out of shipping containers. Let’s hear more from Fernando.

Shipping Container School Plan

Please tell our readers a bit about your school?

Montessori La Milpa started in September of 2010. We currently teach children between the ages of one to six years old. In the fall we will be starting our elementary classroom. We are expecting to have about ten to fifteen children in the first school year.

Aside from the Montessori program, we have a very strong environmental focus. We harvest rainwater in a cistern that can hold 133,000 liters. We also have composting toilets and a composting program where parents bring their organic scraps from home. In addition to all of this we have just started a recycling collection center where families can bring their recyclables. The proceeds from this is donated to a local dog and cat shelter that rescues stray animals.

How did you get the idea of building your school with shipping containers?

We wanted the architecture of the school to match it’s philosophy, diversity, and keep an environmental focus. We are actually located a few miles from one of the two marine port terminals. There are several shipping container storage yards located in very close vicinity. I had seen an article online regarding shipping container homes, several years ago, and although there are very few constructions with shipping containers in town, I figured it was worth exploring. So we presented the idea to our architect and he is the one to credit for the fabulous results.

Lifting Cargo Containers In Place

Why did you decide to build your school out of shipping containers?

We looked at other options like straw bales, adobe blocks, bricks, cinder blocks, etc. They obviously all had their own advantages and disadvantages. We decided to go with shipping containers mainly for three reasons:

  1. The cost was about the same as a traditional cinder block constructions, but the upside was the long term durability (reduced maintenance).
  2. The fact that the containers were being re-purposed rather than recycled.
  3. Finally, the novel aspect of building with shipping containers since there are no other constructions of this magnitude in our area.

How long did the school take to build?

The construction started early June of 2010. Classes started in September of that same year in two of the three classrooms. The third was completed by October, but the construction schedule was reduced due to having classes in the mornings.

Roughly how much did the school cost to build?

  • Land $50,000 USD
  • Containers $50,000 USD
  • Foundations $40,000 USD
  • Cistern $25,000 USD
  • Woodworking $50,000 USD
  • Fencing $20,000 USD
  • Electric/Plumbing $15,000 USD
  • Steel work $12,000 USD
  • Concrete (exterior floors) $12,000 USD
  • Misc $10,000 USD

So a total of around: $285,000 USD

Window Cutout - Shipping Container School

Can you talk about the process of building the school? What were some of the highlights of the process?

I can still remember watching that first red container being crane lifted and placed into it’s location. It was a 30-foot segment from a 40-foot container that had been prepared at a local lot prior to it’s arrival. Even though our architect did a great job on the design and supervising the actual construction, there is always that sense of uncertainty. When it all starts to finally come together, it is great, especially having designed these from specifications and not actually measuring the containers.

Everything came together very nicely and there were minimal surprises that had to be adjusted in real time. There were several crews working at the same time, foundations were being poured while doors and windows were being opened, and while insulation was being installed. We had a delay in getting the building permits. To some extent, we figured it might be delayed due to the shipping containers, but it was actually delayed for other non-related reasons!

How did you insulate the containers?

The interior walls have loose straw that was packed from floor to ceiling, about 3.5 inches thick, held back by chicken wire. Then a layer of adobe plaster was applied to the full height.

On the exterior, all the classrooms have exterior roofs that were made from the corrugated sheet metal that was removed from interior walls. There is an air gap that is formed between this exterior roof and the inner ceiling, in addition to ventilation openings, which helps circulate air.

The climate in our location is relatively mild. We are located less than one mile from the coastline and so have a very nice cool breeze during the day. The distribution of classrooms and windows was done to take advantage of this breeze to keep classrooms cool during summer.

The windows also provide natural light and a heat source during winter.

Inside Shipping Container School

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you built your shipping container school?

That there are containers that don’t have a tubular beam that goes across the top of the length (long sides), but rather have an ‘L’ shaped beam that is much weaker when the inner wall is removed completely. We had to add ‘C’ shaped beams to reinforce that length.

In your experience, what are the advantages of building with shipping containers?

I believe the long term durability and relatively low maintenance is far more advantageous when compared to cinder block constructions, which is the most common type of construction in our area. Also, if the overall condition of the container is good, there is no real need for exterior paint. Interior floors can be refinished and there is no need for additional flooring.

Would you recommend building with shipping containers?

Of course, you can construct anything, from a small off-grid home to a large-scale construction like our school. The possibilities are nearly endless!

Finished Shipping Container School

Thank you for joining us for this interview Fernando!

If you have any thoughts about the construction of the school or using shipping containers, let us know in the comments below.