The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 18, 2012

Joplin school board tests furniture for new schools

JOPLIN, Mo. — As they prepare to furnish several new schools with desks, tables, chairs and other furniture, members of the Joplin Board of Education on Tuesday night got a lesson on ergonomically designed furniture from one of the manufacturers that the school district had scouted.

In a presentation to the board, Dieter Breithecker, a consultant for the parent company of the North Carolina-based furniture manufacturer VS America, said schools should move away from rigid chairs in the classroom. He said students who are uncomfortable in their seats tend to focus more on the chairs than on learning.

Representatives from VS America brought with them to Tuesday’s board meeting several chairs from their showroom to show board members. The chairs featured inclined seats and flexible, curved backs that are designed to help students with posture and movement, Breithecker said.

“Here they can carry out all those necessities which we call movement, and this has an influence on posture health, on the (consumption) of more energy, of more blood flow, of more oxygen supply,” he said. “More physical activity is more muscular activity, and when there is more muscular activity, there is more blood flow, and when there is more blood flow, there is more oxygen to the brain.”

Breithecker said an increase in blood flow and oxygen to the brain can help students stay alert during school and could improve their ability to learn.

The session was not the school district’s first exposure to ergonomic furniture or to the specific manufacturer that brought the chairs.

A few administrators over the past several months took a handful of trips to manufacturers, paid for by the companies themselves, to see their products firsthand. One of the trips was to VS America’s showroom in Germany; they also visited Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Mich., and KI in Green Bay, Wis.

Administrators have said the trips were necessary to test the products before spending what is expected to be millions on furniture for the schools currently under construction.

Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer said after the meeting that VS America arranged the presentation and arranged to bring the products to the board. She said the district is not locked into buying the particular chair model that board members were shown. She also said that VS America is not the only company the district is working with in scouting furniture.

“We’re not sold on anybody,” she said. “We’re sold on making sure we do the exploration (of furniture options) in an appropriate manner.”

Besendorfer said bids for furniture will come after input from the schools’ design teams — groups of parents, teachers and administrators — based on a list of options prepared by administrators.

In other business Tuesday night, the board:

• Reviewed its annual audit, completed by Mense, Churchwell and Mense in Joplin. Chris Churchwell, with the firm, said the audit was clean and found no compliance issues on the part of the district. He said the audit included the Joplin Schools Foundation, which has taken in substantial donations since the May 2011 tornado.

• Approved four change orders for bid packages for Joplin High School, Franklin Technology Center and Irving Elementary School, as well as bid packages for weather barriers, and painting and wall coverings at East Middle School.

• Formally approved a memorandum of understanding among the school district, the city and its master developer related to a tax increment financing district that is scheduled to come before the Joplin City Council by the end of the month. The document spells out the agreements reached among the parties on several challenges to the TIF district that school officials had worked to negotiate.

‘Brains in motion’

ANGIE SCHULZ, a representative of VS America, said the manufacturer’s products accommodate movement, a natural need for students. “We have embraced the idea that we want bodies in motion and brains in motion,” she said.

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