Installing lockers in Chicago-area schools was a main line of business for Installation Specialists, Inc. when the FSN member company got its start 40 years ago. The assignments are considerably more varied now but ISI continues to support Chicagoland’s education sector and is both proud and grateful for the multitude of clients and end users it serves.
The busiest times for school and library furniture projects, for obvious reasons, are holidays and the summer break. No time is busier than the month of August. For example, this year, from August 1 through Labor Day, ISI installation teams logged more than 2,200 hours on school and library projects alone. (That’s more than 275 8-hour days.)
Customer and Project Diversity
The projects performed during August 2013 were very diverse, with assignments coming from multiple furniture dealerships and end-user organizations. Virtually every member of ISI’s Sales and Project Coordination teams was involved in project planning and execution. Nearly 20 foremen were needed for field supervision at facilities ranging from elementary and secondary schools—private and public alike—to universities and university libraries to professional schools. The majority are in the City of Chicago but a few are located in the surrounding suburbs.
Academy of General Dentistry
Back of the Yards Library
De Diego School
DePaul University Richardson Library
DRW College Prep
Dunbar High School
Golder College Prep
Johnson College Prep
Lincoln Park High School
McCormick Elementary School
Niles Township High School
Noble Pullman Corliss
Reavis High School
Solonio High School
University of Chicago Crerar Library
The installation sites included classrooms, lecture halls, labs, library stacks, commons and lounge areas, lobbies, faculty rooms, media rooms, science rooms, testing centers, athletic offices, collaborative learning areas, theatrical stages, music rehearsal rooms, dining halls, break rooms, guidance offices, career centers and filing areas as well as administrative and business offices.
Goal and Product Diversity
The school and library facilities where ISI performed installations in preparation for the fall term reflect much the same needs for change as other workplaces. Underlying project goals included complete restoration, expansion, space reconfiguration, repurposing, refreshment, upgrade and improved environmental characteristics.
One common objective for environmental improvement called for the installation of window shades of either the manually operated or mechanized type. Window shade installation is a highly active area of ISI's business, as facility managers and energy management professionals seek better control of natural light while increasing user comfort along with the efficiency of their buildings' heating and cooling systems. Given the prevalence of constrained budgeting, such improvements are now an important focus in the education sector.
Benching systems, another popular product type, were specified for classrooms and study areas alike. Systems reflecting the integration of furniture and technology point to increased requirements for media-supported collaboration and video conferencing. Architectural wall systems also figured prominently in some of ISI's recent school and library projects.
In addition to the product types noted above, ISI's "back to school" projects involved the full gamut of products used in today's educational settings, including shelving, file storage, various types of classroom and office seating, stools, tables of many kinds, lecterns, library furniture, blackboards, whiteboards, lounge furniture, wall-mounted accessories, stage drapery and auditorium seating as well as systems furniture and private office furnishings.
Timing and Schedule Management. True to patterns of the past, ISI saw many of its 2013 back-to-school projects start to gel in late May and June. In many cases, however, it took until much later in the summer for product to arrive at either ISI's warehouse or the job site. That left little time to perform the appropriate product receiving procedures and complete the installations in time for each school's opening day. The scheduling of manpower, equipment and trucks is further complicated by the fact that the schools all open for the fall term within a small window of time.
Applying its long experience in coping with these timing complexities, ISI brought enormous care and detail to its planning efforts, made frequent, even daily, schedule adjustments and augmented the field staff as needed.
Communication and Coordination. Summertime construction schedules for school projects sometimes bump up against and even overlap the furniture installation schedules. Given the volume of ISI's work in the education sector, it's not unusual for the ISI staff to be faced with multiple instances of this situation as Labor Day approaches.
Generally speaking, the solution lies in maintaining constant communication with the other contractors, the utility companies and the vendors also on site, ensuring consistent follow-through and keeping the construction superintendent informed of ISI's schedule on a daily basis.
Site-Specific Planning. Universities typically have complex operating schedules, tight security requirements and unavoidable constraints on installation logistics. So projects in university buildings require exceptionally detailed planning, especially where the campus is large and long distances have to be traversed. As some of them had an opportunity to demonstrate this August, ISI's foremen know how to navigate these challenges through adeptness in daily manpower planning, distribution and staging of product and installation sequencing, all aimed at keeping their jobs on schedule.
Product Customization. One customization effort deserves a special mention. One of ISI's secondary school projects called for the installation of 90 linear feet of movable glass wall to subdivide a large open space into classrooms on the first floor and 74 linear feet of the same product in a third floor commons area. In a significant departure from the norm, the wall systems were being installed as freestanding units, with no attachments to either drywall structures or the ceiling. A cornice rail was designed to run through the top portion of the tile to provide the needed stabilization for this unique application of the product. Working with keen eyes and the utmost care, ISI's installers accomplished the installation successfully.