Stretching dollars for new classrooms

November 2011

 

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Education Review has a Q & A with Melanie Taylor, principal of brand-new Golden Sands Primary School in Papamoa East, Bay of Plenty about the spending decisions involved with outfitting new classrooms.

 

Roughly how much does it cost to outfit a new classroom from your experience at Golden Sands?

This would depend a lot on one’s educational philosophy. We have purposefully not purchased chairs and tables for every student and have complemented this with soft furnishings. We believe that our children’s learning should be personalised and we have furnished our learning communities to encourage individual and group learning rather than whole class or community learning.

Our learning communities are flexible spaces with big glass sliding doors and flexible seating arrangements. Each learning community – which consists of four learning spaces, two learning studios and a large shared area – also has a number of large indoor/outdoor cushions and a selection of ottoman pieces. In other words, we purchased furniture that can be put together and used in a variety of ways. 

We have allowed for a maximum of 80 children seated at any time on chairs and tables within each community. The two learning studios in each community have been furnished with a group table and chairs. This cost us $17,000 for each learning community. We also purchased teaching walls for storage at $18,000 per learning community.

 

How were decisions made with regard to furnishings and fittings? Who was involved and what factors were considered?

Firstly, we spent a lot of time considering our learning philosophy, what we believed in and what we wanted learning to “look like” at our school. We focused on “anywhere, anytime, anyplace” for both IT and furniture. We also read a lot about flexible learning spaces, including Prakash Nair’s work on architecturally designed spaces for learning and Dr Kenn Fisher’s work on learning spaces. We synthesised this information and created our own vision which we explained to a number of providers and asked them to leave samples for us to trial. This took a period of a couple of months.  Once we had trialled a few different ideas, we went out to tender with a concept and some specific criteria. Fit for purpose (learning needs) and cost were the main determiners. As with all budgets, there are limits, so some compromises were made. The senior leadership team then made a recommendation to the board of trustees.

 

Was it difficult to make the money stretch to where you wanted it to go?

The budget for furniture was very tight for us as, unlike many new primary schools, we had very little storage built in. Storage became a cost that had to come from the set up Furniture Fixtures & Equipment (FF&E) grant. Our teaching walls cost $45,000, which came from this grant.

 

Did you consult with many other new schools on what worked well for them?

I was fortunate to have visited a number of new schools that had been recently opened. A number of the furniture providers also had a lot to offer.

 

What have you learned from the process and would you do anything differently?

It is exciting to be able to create a concept from the beginning. Choosing furniture to meet the learning philosophy and functionality of a school is something that we don’t often get the chance to do. As furniture is something that defines a space, gives a mood and has purpose, it was essential that we got it right. To this end, we bought only core items to start with and have had some pieces added later. For example, we designed a visualiser trolley, which we had made so that the visualisers could be flexibly used. We are still thinking about some extra storage options. Overall, we are really happy with our purchases and wouldn’t do anything differently.

 

What advice would you offer to other new schools?

Advice for others:

Ensure that as much storage is built into each learning space as possible. While this does restrict flexibility a little, it makes the set-up grant go a lot further. Our establishment board of trustees wanted to keep the flexibility high until I was appointed, however did not realise the impact that this would have on the set-up grant.

Ensure that any autex or similar display/acoustic treatments that you require are in the original build costs, if possible. While it is an excellent product, it is very expensive for schools to supply themselves. New schools don’t get any Five-Year Agreement monies for 10 years so there is little capacity to fund this at any time in the near future.

Ensure that bigger providers (and anyone local) tender for the work, as the costs vary widely. More traditional, cost-efficient furniture can be “funked up” with modern treatments, i.e. fabric. It doesn’t hurt to ask what value a company can add, such as free delivery, unpacking or bulk discounts. Most will do all of these.

For new schools specifically, keep in touch with other new schools as there is not a set formula for what each school is provided with as part of the build cost. One school might get stoves included in the staffroom within the build cost, while another wouldn’t. These items could then form the beginning of dialogue with the Ministry of Education.