Into the Wild: Campus Site Furnishings

Not all campus furniture and furnishings live a comfortable, indoor life, protected from wind, snow, dirt, rain, mud, and — one of the most unpredictable forces of nature — students. Selecting and maintaining site furnishings that will be durable, serviceable, and attractive — after all, first impressions count, and visitors to campus will see your site furnishings before they see any of your carefully appointed atriums, lecture halls, classrooms, residence halls, science labs, or dining halls — is a necessary challenge for any college or university.
If It’s Outdoors, It’s Site Furniture
According to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Website, Campus Services recognizes that “outdoor and patio furniture includes but is not limited to patio tables, chairs, benches, umbrellas, trash receptacles, and bike racks.” UCLA’s guidelines for purchasing outdoor furniture include the caveat that furnishings purchased “should be suitable for industrial use and should be constructed from materials such as powder-coated aluminum, cast iron, concrete, or fiberglass.” The guidelines go on to say that “household-type items such as plastic or resin are not recommended.” UCLA’s primary concerns for site furnishing purchases are “safety, durability, and immobility so that the product is not easily moved.”
Information on the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Website acknowledges that while the enforcement of policies concerning outdoor furniture is unlikely, recommendations are offered for the purchasing, planning, or construction of site furnishings. Guidelines concerning safety factors (“furniture should be constructed so as to be safe and placed in a manner that encourages safe usage”), maintenance (“furniture should be low maintenance, requiring a minimum of care and being capable of being repaired or fixed due to vandalism or other damage with a minimum of resources”), appearance (“furniture used should be in good shape; dilapidated or poorly maintained furniture should be avoided both for safety and appearance reasons”), and ADA considerations (“ADA issues should be addressed and met in planning for placement and design of furniture”) are included.
Mike Steger, director of Physical Plant Services at Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University, agreed that avoiding poorly constructed site furnishings, or the wrong choice of materials for campus conditions, are key factors in keeping the furnishings in place and in shape.
“Probably the worst problem we have had has been with poorly specified furnishings,” Steger reported. “Much of what we purchase now is powder-coated aluminum with fixed seating. This keeps the chairs from walking away (and blowing away in a hurricane or tropical storm), and we do provide at least one loose chair per table set to allow for some additional seating for groups larger than four to be able to meet at a table.”
It’s All Part of the Campus Landscape
At The Ohio State University (OSU), policy states that only University standard outdoor furniture may be placed on campus grounds. Individual departments at OSU may purchase furniture for their spaces. However, all furniture is assembled and installed by Facilities Operations and Development personnel. Furniture must be installed on a paved surface and the University landscape architect must approve the placement.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo allows a bit more leeway, recognizing that the campus has a variety of colors of outdoor furniture due to a number of historical factors. They recognize that color schemes may enhance a sense of identity and appeal to both users and donors. The recommendation is that in any given area the furniture be chosen to be consistent and match other furnishings in that area. They also recommend that the colors chosen either match the color of the building nearest the furniture being installed, or be earth tones that match existing furniture and color schemes (dark brown, light brown, grey, black, green or red).
Once It’s in Place, Then What?
Obviously, someone must maintain the furniture once it’s installed. Steger reported that his department has “specified the furnishings, defined their placement, [and] installed and repaired furnishings.” He also noted that, “In the instances where we have not been involved in the specification process, we have ended up replacing that particular furniture within a few short years.”
“Weather is sometimes extreme here in south Florida… lots of sun and high heat tend to bleach the color out of many products,” Steger said. “We get heavy rains and continued high humidity that will cause steel products to rust and deteriorate. We try to buy furnishings that can be bolted down or easily moved and secured. We have found that canvas products don’t last that long here due to all the factors of rain, sun, and humidity conspiring toward an early demise for all but the most hearty of products.”
And what of routine wear and tear, and student influence?
Student usage is “anything but routine,” observed Steger, “but thankfully we suffer from little vandalism. We choose powder-coated furnishings so that a piece can be easily refinished if it is scratched or some other way damaged. We select fixed seating so that the chairs don’t disappear, only to be found in a dorm room or classroom later on.
“Finally, any furnishing we purchase must have a solid warranty. Considering the cost of a good outdoor product, any extra spent on a product with a good warranty is money in the bank, in my opinion,” Steger said.