Form and Function

Your district may be just getting off the ground with plans for a new school, but it is never too early to start thinking about the furnishings that will go inside. The sooner you decide on a furnishings package, the more responsive and successful the design of the entire facility will be.

Just as designing a school is an evolutionary process, so is planning its furnishings. Focus on funding, cost, how use of the facility will evolve, and the image your district wants to convey. The earlier you can articulate the district's expectations and needs, the better the finished project will be.

Know what you want Working with a design professional, districts should set priorities. Just as teaching styles can change, so can the issues that guide the development of the furnishings package. The district project team, planners and designers should look at how changes in technology, curriculum, teaching methodology and facility usage could alter furnishing needs.

Accommodating current needs should be a priority, but pay attention to trends. For instance, today's schools are playing an expanded role in their communities, and some of the furnishings may need to serve many functions. The integration of technology into all school areas creates a demand for more flexible and adaptable furnishings. Schools may need specialized furnishings to comply with legislative requirements and expanding programs for special-needs and disabled students.

High schools are typically community showpieces, especially in smaller districts, so image is another major concern. As school-to-work programs increase across the nation, more districts are striving for a professional image. With the continuing need for skilled and technical professionals, some schools want to retain a vocational character. Furnishings often can help define the character, image and perception of a building or a space.

Get an early start Planning should start well before a district works with a planning or design team. For the best outcome, a district should be clear on its needs and expectations. District and community groups can help develop guidelines for a project.

At the outset, it is important to establish a furnishings budget. While making funding decisions, districts should be aware of life-cycle costs. Long-term functionality and durability are well worth the price.

Other considerations to address early in the planning:

-Changes in building codes and accessibility requirements.

-Customization to meet ergonomic standards and specialized needs.

-Future reconfiguration, acquisition and ongoing maintenance.

-Assembly and ease of mobility and re-installation.

Throughout the planning, continue to revisit the defining issues and clarify the expectations. Ask critical questions, such as:

-Should furnishings standards already be in place, or will the district develop them with its design professionals?

-Will furniture and equipment be addressed in the educational specifications, and how will that be integrated into the design process?

One package or more? Should the school's furniture package be divided into separate parts for specific areas of the school? In most areas of the country, there usually are separate vendors/bidders involved with each of the different components of a package. By breaking a bid into multiple packages, districts can reduce the amount of markup if a single supplier is not required.

A typical classroom has generic needs, but determining which tables, desks and chairs are appropriate can depend on the teacher's style. If the district has preset standards, durability and cost are guiding elements, but function and teaching methodology will dictate the specific pieces of furniture the school purchases. Classes such as art, journalism, debate, drama and even foreign languages will require different, more specialized furnishings.

Classrooms for business, technology, music and special programs require special attention, and an understanding of curriculum and teaching methodologies. Science labs might have differing needs for lab and teaching stations, teacher's desks, worktables or individual desks.

Of all the components of a furnishings package, the library/media center is the one most often handled in a separate bid. Online information systems, electronic card catalogues and electronic on-line research areas are becoming the hubs of these media centers. As the design concept is being developed, it is imperative to lay out the space with the furnishings in mind. Most states have mandatory library standards, and the layout and furnishings, such as the shelving requirements, need to accommodate the standards.

It is an additional challenge to strike a balance between making the space inviting for students to hang out-using leisure reading and comfortable seating areas-while still providing a truly academic learning space.

The administration area has requirements different from the rest of the facility and often is treated as a separate package. Administrators, counselors, parents and others who use this space require a more professional atmosphere.

The school might want to use landscape or systems furnishings that often are of higher quality than the typical staff desks and chairs. The use of systems furnishings in administration areas allows furnishings to be flexible, adaptable and adjustable. Interchangeable components allow for new workstation layouts as needs change. Most office furnishings suppliers can help districts prepare a bid proposal for a furnishings package in the administration area.

Furnishing a school will always be difficult, but the earlier you define your district's expectations and needs, the better the finished project will be. As the facility matures, furnishings requirements will evolve, causing the district and designers to revisit the process.

>From pre-design questionnaires to interviews with staff and teachers, the furnishings package at the new Park Hill South High School, Riverside, Mo., was continually defined and refined.

The high school was planned for 1,600 students with varied classroom furniture requirements, yet the district and the designers wanted the furnishings to be interchangeable and coordinate with various areas in the building.

Working with a local vendor, the district adopted a specification based on existing standards.

The media center and the satellite resource areas, which are connected electronically to the main media center, were developed as a separate package.

Planners put together an additional furniture and equipment package for the administration area. School officials wanted to establish a districtwide standard for all administrative furnishingsand requested that the specification for administration furnishings be based on the existing modular landscape system used throughout the newly furnished district office. The bid package was based on a proprietary product line that other suppliers could bid on.

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