In today's economic climate, Americans must find creative ways to do more with less. School and university administrators are challenged with stretching budgets to compensate for the increased costs of construction, maintenance and operations. Funding is likely to remain a struggle as it becomes increasingly difficult to convince taxpayers in some regions to pass needed bonds, and tax revenue growth slows.
Furniture is a tempting place to save money. It is one of the last things put in place in a construction project, and when money gets tight, it may seem like an easy solution is to skimp on quality in favor of what is affordable. This scenario is bad news for the middle school student who is taller than normal for his age and must cram his legs to fit under a desk that is too low for his build, or for the college student that must sit in an uncomfortable seat with metal legs for a 90-minute biology lecture.
To create a proper learning environment, furniture should be durable, flexible, aesthetic, maintainable, comfortable and affordable. And thanks to many education furniture manufacturers, the goal of purchasing furniture with these characteristics is becoming more attainable.
A changing price point
Once upon a time, furniture purchasing may have been as simple as flipping through a catalog, finding something that matched the needs of a given space, and paying what was on the price tag. That process has changed, however, and school and university administrators now have more bargaining power.
“What's really changing is the price point, and the manufacturers have really realized the market that [education institutions] provide,” says Debbi Moody, senior associate and interior designer with Yost Grube Hall Architecture in Portland, Ore.
Updating yesterday's designs from the 1960s and '70s to be more ergonomic and accessible has made education furniture a large market, says Moody.
“There's been a lot of energy put into producing a good, quality product at a good price point that makes it affordable,” she says.
The declining cost of innovative furniture systems is opening doors that previously had been locked for many education institutions. More schools and universities are finding it feasible to consider more than just stationary furniture in a one-size-fits-all solution.
Instead, they are seeing the advantages of selecting furniture that is adjustable for the individual student. Their shopping criteria might include seats that are large enough for a variety of sizes and in materials such as mesh that may be more comfortable for students, while also being easier to maintain.
A changing price point has made it possible for schools and universities to use height-adjustable chairs on a larger scale, says Moody.
In computer labs, this type of chair can be adjusted to enable students to use keyboards in a more ergonomic fashion.
With the amount of time students spend in their learning environments, it is worth an education institution's time and effort to select the best furniture solution possible. If the price tag boasts a cost that is too high, other options do exist — as long as those in charge of purchasing don't mind a little bargain shopping.