Whether building a new school or working on a renovation project, one of the most important questions to ask is: "What would I most change about the teaching environment?" The majority of teachers will answer "add more space," and that always includes a need for storage.
Most educational administrators and facility planners grimace at the sound of these words because they would like to oblige, but know they are in the business of providing educational space for students. Many schools have budgets reliant upon state funds that are based on student population. It is difficult to build or propose space that would satisfy the average teacher for the short- or long-term storage of educational materials.
One way to address this need for space is by appropriately outfitting the school with furniture and casework that is effective and efficient, paying particular attention to the short- and long-term effects on the use of the casework.
Making informed decisions There are several criteria that can be used to evaluate furniture and casework in K-12 educational spaces. These include:
-Keep furniture or casework flexible in its placement, and expandable for curriculum and teacher changes. Consider placing casework on the carpet in classrooms to maximize its flexibility.
-Make the color of your casework and furniture simple so that when schools are new or renovated these permanent and expensive equipment pieces do not drive or distract from the aesthetics of the school. Elementary schools can be the exception; their public spaces can benefit from fun and exciting organizational colors
-Many areas of the country have a strong presence by particular manufacturers. Consider new manufacturers that can be competitive and provide the same quality product outside of your general area. Do some Internet research; it may uncover a new resource.
-Try to eliminate too much built-in casework for administrative stations and offices. Staff like to personalize their work environment to their own flow and efficiencies. Use furniture, as well as systems furniture, to create appropriate workstations.
-Do not go overboard in your best intentions to provide the classroom with an extensive amount of casework. Too much can be as bad as not enough.
-Remember when purchasing furniture not to use initial cost or multipurpose quality as the criteria for selection. An all-purpose piece of furniture may never be as functional as a specific piece of furniture or casework.
-Consider manufacturers of furniture and casework that have proven records of quality and experience. Some educational furniture manufacturers are 50 to 75 years old. Often, compatible or replacement pieces for some furniture as old as the company are available.
-Take time to look at the size and shape of a piece of furniture or casework. The depth and height of shelving can be a simple example of a waste of floor space. Shelving that is deeper than 15 inches needs to be for a specific use, or it will not be fully utilized. For example, a five-shelf library bookcase in an elementary or middle school is not an effective use of space because students cannot reach or see the books on the top shelf.
-Basic casework and furniture can have reasonable associated costs. It is when you begin to specify or require amenities that need hardware or special cuts that the price escalates. Drawers are an amenity that need to be limited to specific needs, or they can drive up the cost of a base cabinet.
-Consider how this casework or furniture will fit into the delivery of education now and in the future. Does it have the capability now or the ability to be retrofitted later for power and data access?
The future K-12 classroom may look completely different than it does today. Powerful laptop computers and the way we access information already have made the university lecture hall, for example, a place where students and teachers access information and give immediate feedback electronically. This type of interaction, when applied to K-12 schools in the future, may alter the need for individual desks, and teaching materials may need more electronic storage than physical space.