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How to Choose an Operable Partition
By: Jim Curtis

Operable partitions allow religious and academic facilities to easily divide a large room into several smaller spaces. When selected correctly, they give the facility remarkable flexibility to optimize the use of available space.

Unfortunately, when incorporating an operable partition into a building, many churches begin and end with the physical separation of the space. Certainly, space division is a partition's most visible function. But, limiting one's scope to that is akin to buying an automobile simply because it has four wheels and can transport you from one point to another.

Like cars, operable partitions operate under distinct circumstances that influence the purchase decision. Many factors should be strongly considered before choosing the best product for the application.

First, establish the performance criteria the partition needs to deliver. How is it going to be used in the near and long-term future? Having a specific use in mind for the space from the beginning is essential and will help through the decision-making process. (After all, you don't buy a sports car when you want to haul a 30-foot boat.)

Most often, the selection process begins with partition type: single, paired, or continuously hinged. Single panel designs offer the greatest versatility for space division needs. For the largest openings, storage in remote pockets and in complex partition layouts, the single panel is usually the operable partition of choice.

Paired panels are hinged together in pairs and offer the most efficient operable partition option. Usually available in top-supported or floor-supported configurations, they are ideal for straight-line openings and offer quick and easy setup.

Continuously hinged panels are a series of panels hinged together and typically available in either electric or manual operation. They offer quick setup time and provide efficient and convenient separation, but, as a result of the weight of the combined panels, electric operation is the most common continuously hinged option.

Sound Control
Although dividing space is a partition's obvious function, the fundamental issue is sound control - ensuring that events can occur adjacent to one another simultaneously, that a Bible study can take place next to a lively youth group. Attention to the sound transmission needs will help you choose the right partition for the application.

Manufacturers provide a wide range of acoustically rated partitions, and the published Sound Transmission Classification (STC) can be used to evaluate anticipated sound control of various products. When STC claims are compared based upon a careful evaluation of current and independent laboratory test reports, the acoustical performance of a partition system can be compared in a manner similar to evaluating the EPA fuel efficiency rating of various cars.

Just as important, architects and contractors must evaluate flanking transmission, which is the passage of sound by paths other than directly through the partition.

When a partition does not fit or interface correctly with the surrounding construction, its sound-blocking characteristics can be significantly compromised. A loose or inappropriate fit creates sound leaks at the perimeter of the partition and at panel intersections. Making sure the acoustical seals of the partition are tight will optimize acoustical performance. Non-mechanical seals, non-moving vinyl seals of various shapes, provide simplicity and consistent acoustical performance at the overhead track. When necessary, retracting mechanical seals are appropriate, such as seals that contact the floor, since the contact surface varies in flatness. Many applications benefit from a mechanical floor seal that automatically activates. These automatic seals do not require the use of separate tools, which may be impractical or inappropriate, such as in a school environment.

Aesthetics are another important factor to consider for both the initial installation and long-term operation. A multitude of materials and colors are available. Economical vinyl offers dozens of standard finish colors in addition to custom-printed options. Woven fabrics and ribbed wall carpeting provide texture and sound-deadening qualities. Wood veneers and plastic laminates can impart a warm, natural feeling to the room, while still providing outstanding durability.

Other finishes are more functional in nature such as full or partial dry erase boards, chalkboards and tack boards that turn the partition into a large instructional surface. Beyond the standard finishes, most manufacturers will accommodate a COM (customer's own material) finish as long as the material passes a suitability review and appropriate codes.

In addition, a variety of options can be incorporated into partitions: acoustical pass doors, as well as non-acoustical wood or metal doors, with a full array of hardware options, allow passage through a partition. Window options (full or partial height) have become a popular option. These impart a combination of form and function that makes the partition more useful and more attractive.

Ease of Use
It's been said that you never discover the true strength of your relationship until you try to teach your child to drive a manual transmission. (If you've ever attempted it, you know exactly what I'm talking about.) Ideally, the equipment matches the ability of the user to operate it.

So it is with operable partitions. Knowing who will use the partition helps determine the appropriate sealing method and usage options. For instance, a teacher who wants to separate a classroom needs an easy-to-use partition, perhaps one with a "free-flowing" overhead track system and automatic floor seals. In some instances, an electrically operated system featuring motor-driven wall movement is the best solution. Depending on the facility, such systems may need an infrared safety system that stops partition movement if the safety zone is penetrated.

Length of Ownership
Commercial developers may have a short-term commitment to a building and may not want to invest in a robust, higher-end panel. On the other hand, churches frequently have a much longer outlook; they want a system that will endure. And, investing in heavy-duty steel track allows the owner to replace the panels at a future date but leave the track in place, saving time and money in the long run. Longer-lasting finishes tend to be more prudent.

Although operable partitions are not as intricate as today's automobiles, installation and service are still an issue. Partition installer qualifications should be considered. Given the many variables that encompass installation, you should seek experienced installers who have experience in a number of settings and applications.

Finally, the product warranty should be considered. Owners with a long-term horizon tend to desire longer warranties. Look closely at what is covered by the warranty: parts only, or parts and labor. Exactly which parts are covered? Warranties vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer, as does the expertise of the local partition supplier. Longer warranty periods many times require an annual service agreement, so investigating the experience of the local supplier is as important as wording of the warranty. Annual service agreements can be helpful in maintaining the partition's function, safety, and appearance.

Generally, you don't see large families cramming into a two-seat roadster or a bachelor cruising around town in a minivan. People select vehicles based on their personal needs. Choosing a partition, like choosing a car, is something that should be considered carefully. All options should be weighed, not just basic acoustics.

By looking at all the options carefully and, ultimately, looking at the overall function that the partition must serve, architects and end users can choose a partition that is appropriate for the space.

Jim Curtis is director of national accounts for Modernfold, www.modernfold.com .

Product Roundup

KWIK-WALL is a one-stop solution for cost-effective and flexible space management, providing quality operable wall systems to worship facilities. KWIK-WALL manufactures a wide variety of operable wall systems to meet your space requirements, including moveable walls, accordion folding doors, and moveable glass walls. Their products are developed to provide easy setup and superior visual and sound privacy. With KWIK-WALL products, you can use the area you have to create the space you need. There are six levels of sound control, a wide variety of accessory options, and vinyl, carpet, or wood finishes.

VersiPanel and VersiFold by MityLite
Mity-Lite VersiPanel and VersiFold portable partitions can make church areas more versatile than ever before. The portable partitions are freestanding and flexible, offering good sound control and pleasing visual effects. VersiPanel partitions are fabric-covered, semi-rigid, freestanding panels that users can bend and shape. VersiFold partitions feature a safe, non-pinching design that comes with optional chalkboard or whiteboard accessories. Systems can be used separately or together for added versatility.

Flexible space is vital to today's churches as it meets the varied needs of the members and community. Woodfold's accordion and roll-up doors provide instant walls when needed. Custom-made Woodfold accordion doors are available in a variety of models to provide sight and acoustic space division. Suspended from an overhead track, doors are offered in heights to 12 feet and are easily opened and closed. Woodfold's hardwood roll-up doors store conveniently overhead and are ideal for pass-through dividers between rooms.

Hufcor 600 Series
Creating flexible spaces has never been easier. The new Hufcor 600 series is a versatile and aesthetically pleasing operable wall. Durable welded steel frames combine with acoustical and decorative faces for optimum sound control and beauty. Protective edge trim is standard, yet a monolithic, untrimmed edge is an option. Three standard trim colors coordinate with a wide selection of vinyl patterns and colors. An array of options such as markerboards, eraser pockets and pass doors provide even more versatility.

Screenflex Room Dividers
Create the rooms you need with Screenflex Room Dividers. Let's face it, the phrase "Nothing is as constant as change" is truer now than ever. Demands for additional teaching/meeting spaces have increased dramatically over the years. With Screenflex Portable Room Dividers, you can create the additional rooms you need in the spaces you already have.

Operable walls and folding accordion doors offer cost-effective solutions to space utilization within a church. All Curtition products come in a choice of colors for washable vinyl or a nice color selection of vertically ribbed carpet. Carpet finishes are particularly attractive on accordion doors, and most users of that product report a noticeable difference in sound dampening when they are extended across their room. The accordion door hardware is visually attractive and functional. The flat panel operable walls come in standard vinyl, vertically ribbed carpet, woven fabrics and even wood veneers. Chalkboards, dry erase marker boards, and bulletin boards are available to add function to the acoustical room separation.

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Religious Product News