Educational institutions are unique premises in terms of their day to day operations and activities, which is reflected in the needs of their educational furniture. They see high volumes of people through the doors each day, with these people moving very dynamically from one area to another. “Unconventional” use of furniture and equipment is much more likely here. The users of the furniture don’t always have the highest regard. All these unique attributes of education premises makes managements life difficult and often results in spiraling maintenance costs as well as service issues. But let’s not panic just yet. With some forethought and careful planning you can help keep service issues and running costs of your education furniture within reason.
- Replaceable parts: Ensure you purchase furniture with replaceable parts. There is no economy in buying a chair with a cheap outlay cost if you need to replace the whole chair should an armrest break. Let’s face it, in a school or university where boisterous kids and teenagers run free, parts are going to break. It’s much easier and cheaper to replace a small part rather than an entire unit. This also results in less waste – for your organisation and the environment.
- Plan for “hot desking”: Although not a traditional office environment, educational buildings are the forbearer of hot desking. Each seat usually sees numerous different occupiers each day as students move between classes. This affects your furniture in 2 ways. Firstly it’s subject to much more wear and tear in this type of environment. This problem can be easily rectified by choosing harder wearing fabrics and materials in areas you know will be highly trafficked and by lots of different users. Doing this at the planning stage will avoid the costly labour charges involved in reupholstering during service.
Secondly your furniture can be much more susceptible to breakage as users try to customise “uncustomisable” furniture to their individual needs. We have seen everything from students trying to turn cantilever chairs into rocking chairs to students creating their own sit-stand desking; all with dubious outcomes. To avoid these situations consider furniture with basic customisability for hot desking areas. All chairs should as a minimum be height adjustable, backrest adjustable and allow for swivel or non-swivel. Giving students some adjustability will help avoid them trying to create it themselves.
- Plan your areas: Mention school chairs and people normally conjure an image of blue or grey bucket shaped plastic chairs which are ubiquitous across the education sector. Because they are cheap and stackable these tend to be the “go to” chairs for all areas; classrooms, workshops, libraries, common areas, staff room and halls. However each area is unique and has unique needs. Rolling out the same chair in all areas may look like a cost saver up front but what are the costs in terms of reduced productivity, high staff turnover and lower moral and enthusiasm – in teachers and students. Educational environments should be hot beds of activity, places where information is transferred, ideas are shared and future leaders are forged. If the staff and students are flat because they are using tools not fit for purpose this can have a huge overall impact on the school. This impact is insidious and not always obvious so it’s important to pay close attention here and always take the big picture view.
- Service agreement: Ensure you have a decent service agreement in place with your supplier. Small fixes you should be able to DIY on site. However some furniture may need specialist tools or someone with experience to handle them. If something goes wrong or does break it’s important you can get someone in quickly and have the issue resolved. Unusable furniture stored away is actually capital (and costs) that you have stacked away in the basement closet that’s not just lack of use; it’s also an expense on the organisation.
- Buy cheap, buy twice: As the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for”. Furniture that seems cheap up front can sometimes cost more in the long run. When you cost a project initially remember to take everything into consideration. Look at product guarantees, expected lifecycle, cost of maintenance and repair as well as disposal costs. When everything is taken into consideration the lowest up front cost is not always the best value over time. Lifecycle costs are a much more accurate way of comparing value.