Take A Seat

When buying furniture for your school, you want products that meet your building's needs and can withstand years of wear and tear from students and staff.

Before you buy, do your research. Review product brochures, study the warranties, talk to manufacturers' representatives, attend product showcases, check user references, test actual samples and include end users in the selection process.

If you are using competitive bidding, write clear and complete specifications to make sure you get the furniture that meets your needs.

Make it last When evaluating products for durability, you need to look at the materials, as well as how they are manufactured. Check the gauge of the metal, the thickness of materials, the finishing processes and how the welding is done. You also should determine if replacement parts are readily available.

Factor in how long your school will be using the furniture and how much abuse it will endure over its life. Use life-cycle costing to determine the true cost of the product, including replacement parts and repairs. For example, a $500 desk with a 20-year life (or $25 a year) is more economical in the long run than a $200 desk with a five-year life, which works out to $40 a year. Many districts still are using classroom and office furniture that they bought more than 30 years ago.

Bucking trends Your school probably will be using the furniture you are buying for a long time, so try to stay away from trendy colors. Generally, schools need to replace or add pieces, so it is important that the styles and colors you choose will be available in the future. Some school systems, especially for a new building, select custom colors for their furniture and pay a premium of up to 20 percent. When the schools need to replace pieces, however, the extra cost for matching that custom color can be up to 20 percent higher than standard colors.

Basic black or tan for teacher furniture may not be exciting, but when you are likely to be moving it from room to room or building to building, it always will fit in with the existing furniture. When you need to add more file cabinets, bookcases or storage cabinets to a room, you know you will have furniture that is color-coordinated.

More common items also are easier to acquire on short notice. Many vendors have quick-ship items that they can deliver within two weeks. The quick-ship items are normally the bestsellers available in only a limited number of colors.

Technology talks In selecting office and classroom computer furniture, wire management is an important consideration, not only for aesthetics, but also for safety. A normal computer may have nine to 10 cords, and three or four plugged into outlets.

In an office setting, add as many as five more cords for items such a telephone, fax machine, adding machine, paper punch and pencil sharpener.

You must manage this maze of wires so that no one trips or gets caught on the wires, and to maintain the overall appearance of the classroom or office.

Comfort and safety Keep ergonomics in mind when you choose school furnishings. Before ordering chairs, many schools question potential users about the tasks they perform and how long they normally sit in the chair.

The weight and portability of furnishings become important in schools that have only one custodian on duty to set up and take down portable stages and risers, to rearrange tables and chairs, and to clean floors.

The risk of back injuries decreases dramatically when you select products that are designed for one person to handle. A traditional-style six-foot folding table can weigh up to 100 pounds, while new lightweight tables weigh only 55 pounds.

The savings in worker compensation costs can offset what you spend to replace heavier folding tables. For example, in Minnesota, the average lost-time case through workers' compensation costs $16,400, and four out of 10 of those claims are the result of muscular or skeletal injuries.

Be flexible Do you order furniture delivered to your dock, or do you order it delivered and installed? Depending upon the amount of assembly and the unpacking, having it delivered and installed can add from 6 percent to 30 percent to the cost.

If you are opening a new building that will not be ready until August, you may not have any flexibility in when and where you can receive a furniture delivery. But if you can be flexible, you may save money and ensure that the furniture is in your buildings when you need it.

With most schools starting in late August or early September, manufacturers of school furnishings get swamped with orders that want an August delivery. The shortage of truck drivers and trucks in the United States has made it even more difficult for manufacturers to accommodate all the requests for August delivery. Some manufacturers are paying a premium directly to truck drivers to get them to take their loads.

By being flexible in accepting delivery, you may be able to avoid the cost of a performance bond. Performance bonds may add about 3 percent to the cost of your order, and factories typically give priority to orders that require a performance bond. But by extending your lead time for ordering or accepting delivery before August, you may be able to eliminate the need for the performance bond and save that 3 percent.

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