Sitting pretty

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Modern technology calls for modern classroom furniture capable of handling power sockets, cabling and networks. Chris Drage looks at the options available

It is a fact that our elderly classrooms were simply not designed to cope with today's ICT requirements. Traditionally, the solution has been to put all stand-alone ICT equipment on a trolley and try to lash it up with as much security cable as possible. With networked areas, permanent benching with work surfaces and electricaldata conduit has provided the answer.

Once installed, it's set in stone. The challenge for every school is to combine durable desktop space with a usable, but secure, computer system.

Today there are a number of elegant solutions.

There are a number of things you should look out for when looking at these solutions. For example, will they stand the test of time? Ideally, you want something made from solid steel and high pressure bonded laminated MDF, not chipboard. Flexibility is important. Also, can the desks be easily moved and reconfigured to suit other spaces? Some systems, such as i-desk, use a unique jigsaw connection. This facilitates easy reconfiguration so the desks hold steady when in normal use.

Cable management is a vitally important issue, so you need to ensure that all cables are safely and securely housed inside the desk, protected from prying hands and objects. This not only protects cables from damage but is also an important safety measure. Give any system that has the cable tied to the back of, or protruding from, the desk a wide berth.

Terms of warranty are important. You should expect at least an option of an 8 to 10-year on-site warranty. A one-year "return to base" type of warranty is of little use to anyone. Some companies offer a free-of-charge room layout design service too. Lastly, ask for references from other clients that the company may have. There is nothing like talking with colleagues who are currently using the kit.

Since 2000, i-desk has won seven awards for innovation and has been taken up by hundreds of schools in the UK alone. The unit is made from a mild steel base and a composite MDFlaminate designed for hard-wearing environments. Cable management is secure with no exposed sections, and up to five desks can be accommodated by one 13 amp socket and one data socket.

Similarly, the computer casing is locked securely into the desk to prevent theft, the TFT screen is secured on a custom-strengthened bracket and the keyboard and mouse connections are locked away. With a number of interlocking "jigsaw" pieces, all manner of hexagonal and octagonal arrangements can be made. The standard warranty on the i-desk furniture is three-year on-site with an option of a 10-year on-site. The PC cassette has a return to supplier warranty with the option of one, two or three-year on-site. Other options include toughened glass and variable height (manual or auto).

Based on this success, enter the i-rise. This modular system presents the PC screen, keyboard and mouse to all users from the centre of a cluster of i-desks. The i-rise allows multiple i-desks to be transformed into a single, elegant, table-top resource, and vice versa, at the touch of a button. Schools and organisations can easily combine ICTcollaborative study and work areas that requires access to computers, with an open-area all-purpose room.

An i-rise cluster of four, six, eight, 12 and 20 units is an elegant solution for rooms of any size. Similarly, should your school require ICT access along the walls then the i-desk Wall-Mount can maximise space in a room by allowing i-desks to be folded away when not in use. With the optional locking display guard, security is complete. The Wall-Mount, like the i-rise, makes secure ICT access perfectly possible in the communal room, recreation room, barfood area, all-purpose meeting room and the hall.

Taking a different approach, the RM Intellidesk comprises a solid desk unit complete with swivelling lid (with flat screen monitor mounted on the underside) and a computer housed in a lockable cabinet. It is made from stainless and mild steel with a melamine face chipboard top.

The design cleverly enables the monitor screen to fold away to leave a completely free, traditional classroom desktop. The IntelliDesk can be "power chained" to allow up to three units to run from one power supply, requiring one power outlet per three desks. Up to eight network leads can be run through any one desk's built in conduit. Each desk is supplied with power block, mains lead and adjacent desk power chain lead. It comes in a range of heights, widths and arrangements.

However, there are no angular fill pieces available to create hexagonal or octagonal layouts. Although the Intellidesk should work with any PC, RM can't guarantee that those PCs won't generate too much heat. Recent improvements include a revised, more durable top surface (in more colours) and a wider lid to enable 15 and 17-inch hard glass or normal screens to fit. A two-year on-site warranty is offered.

The Pelham SloaneFolio COMPlete desk incorporates the Pelham Sloane computer system, which houses the computer (hard and CD drives) within the screen. With no base unit, the desk is neat and compact. With the keyboard mounted on the underside of the lid and the display on a folding arm, closing the lid lowers the arm and locks the keyboard and mouse away leaving a normal clear desk. However, I would like to see how easily you could upgrade this system.

Ergo's new range of SecureDesks includes The System, The Executive and The Octagonal, each of which can be configured to suit the majority of schools'

needs and requirements. In appearance it looks like an i-desk. It's made from a steel base and a composite chipboardmelamine laminate. Cable management is the same as the i-desk, being secure with no exposure and up to five desks can be accommodated by one 13 amp socket and one data socket.

Again, the computer itself is locked securely into the desk to prevent theft and the flat-screen monitor is secured on a bracket. There is no access to external CD or floppy unless you have the security key. The standard warranty for schools is one year collect-and-return (screen, PC and desk) with an option of up to three years on-site or collect-and-return. Site references are available.

Use of space and security are major problems for schools. Integrated desks place ICT physically into the educational environment resolving the issues of furniture, access and security that schools face when implementing ICT provision. But which of these solutions is right for your school? Being dedicated to, and having long experience in, this area, my vote goes to i-desk with RM's Intellidesk and Ergo's SecureDesk coming a very close second. I am not absolutely convinced whether Pelham SloaneFolio unit will survive the rigours of the school environment.


i-desk Solutions

Tel: 0870 770 6890

Pelham Sloane

Tel: 020 7349 2090


Tel: 01235 826000

Ergo Computing UK

Tel: 0115 914 4144

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