What’s it worth? The importance of quality products in PF2 schemes

The adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is particularly true when it comes to specifying and supplying furniture, fittings and equipment (FFE) for schools. While financial considerations are understandably important when designing an educational facility on the PF2 scheme, it is vital not to forgo quality in favour of cost cutting – as the best value solution is not always necessarily the cheapest.

PF2 contracts are usually for 25 years. Of course, it can’t be expected that all products will last this whole period – especially in an environment where a building is being used five days a week by potentially hundreds of students – but if architects can choose robust, well-made products and furnishings that are built to withstand a high level of wear and tear, they’ll be saving themselves a lot of time, money and hassle in the long run.

When an item needs replacing, it isn’t necessarily as simple as making a phone call to fix the issue. From identifying and reporting the problem and ordering a new one, to disposing of the old product and fitting the replacement, the whole process can take weeks – and in worse cases, months – to complete. What’s more, cheaper products are less likely to come with decent guarantees that provide valuable cover and protection.

Not only does solving such issues significantly eat into a school’s time and money, it can also strain the relationship with clients who simply want the problem solved as quickly as possible – regardless of who is at fault and what hold ups there may be.

Planning and designing a space that will last two or even three decades isn’t just about choosing products that won’t break though, it’s also about specifying products that are flexible enough to evolve with changing education trends and teaching styles.

A quarter of a century is a long time in the education system. The way students learn in a few years’ time won’t be the same as the way they learn today; different technology will be in place, ground-breaking research will influence the way teachers deliver lessons and the government will set new criteria for teaching and testing students.

In order for learning spaces to be functional but also offer value, they need to be as future-proof as possible. As such, the FFE needs to be versatile and agile so it can adapt as the learning environment and culture changes. Architects and designers need to have the foresight to plan for the classroom of tomorrow, as well as today, and determine whether the products they specify will be as useful in a few years’ time as they are now.

While choosing the right table may seem a straightforward task, for example, how versatile is the item really? Is it shaped in such a way that several can be grouped together in a number of different formations or is it limited to simply long lines and squared clusters? What facilities does it have for integrating technology and other equipment? Can the item be altered in any way to enable students to stand rather than sit? A cheaper table may be able to perform adequately and meet the objective of the brief in the short-term, but how does it compare to other options which are potentially more versatile?

Skimp on quality at the start of a PF2 project and any savings made could well be swallowed up by problem fixing and replacing faulty items later. Having the right FFE in place can directly support the school’s ethos and vision, as well as encourage the best educational outcomes from students. Unless the products provide the right level of quality and flexibility though, achievements and successes can be jeopardised. Using the FFE budget effectively and creatively to come up with smart solutions will not only provide better value in the medium to long term, but it will also lead to better outcomes for the students now and in the future.

Comment by Wayne Taylor, managing director of interior architect and FFE consultancy, SpaceZero.