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Multi-Purpose Church Space
By: Bonnie Swenson

Optimizing the functionality of your multi-purpose room by using movable partitions can be the answer to your space dilemma. Many types of partitions are available that offer solutions for just about any situation.

Movable partitions—also known as operable partitions, room dividers, or folding doors—are custom built to fit the opening size and provide acoustical separation. The stage can be used for classrooms by separating it from the rest of the room with sound rated panels.  Systems are available that divide the space into multiple rooms and then are stored out of sight when needed for performances.

Consult the Experts

Most movable partitions are suspended from an overhead track system. The hanging weight varies by type of partition. You will need to make certain your overhead structure is sufficient to properly support your partitions. If the overhead support is inadequate, there are systems that can support the partition weight independent of the building. These systems may have partition height, width, or weight limitations, but they are a good alternative to adding more support to the building.

Your partitions will need to meet any local, ADA, or fire codes. Consulting an architect and/or engineer can save you both time and money in the long run. Their knowledge and experience can be invaluable.

Sound control and sound separation will be important when dividing your rooms. The better the sound control, the more the partition weighs and the higher the cost. Make certain that the room in which you are using the movable partition has an acoustical rating similar to the room where it is being used. If the room itself doesn't control sound, the partitions won't perform to their expectations. Talk with an acoustical expert who can recommend the best way to design the room for reducing noise or enhancing speech.

There are so many choices—which is the best for you?

1. Operable Panels

Operable partitions are a series of panels suspended from overhead track. Operables provide optimum space flexibility. When in place, the panels are similar in appearance to a permanent wall.

Most operable panels are about 4' wide and need approximately 4" depth per panel for stacking space. The panels typically consist of a steel or aluminum frame with faces of gypsum, steel, MDF, or a combination of materials to meet the required sound control. The faces may be finished with a variety of materials, including vinyl, fabric, or carpet. Custom finishes and substrates may also be ordered to coordinate with or match the existing walls.

The panels include sound seals. The method of setting them and sealing the partition in place varies by manufacturer. Retractable seals perform best because they do not leave rub marks on the ceiling or floor as vinyl seals often do. Retractable seals don't tear or fall off. While retractable seals are initially more expensive, they perform better over the life of the partition.

Operable options include pass thru doors for access into the adjoining space, pocket doors (to cover the storage area when the panels are not in use), inset tack or marker boards, eraser pockets, and windows.

There are a variety of operable partition configurations. With paired panels, a series of two or three panels are hinged together and divide the room from wall to wall. Paired panels are manually operated.

Next, manually operated individual panels provide optimum flexibility because the track they are suspended from allows the panels to move through intersections and around corners or to a remote location. The panels are ideal for facilities that may need many different room setups. Additional track can be installed so the panels can be moved to, or used in, alternate locations to form smaller or larger rooms.

Finally, electrically operated train partitions consist of a series of panels hinged together. They are used for wall-to-wall separation and are the best choice for dividing large gymnasiums. Electric models are available with safety systems that prevent injury if a person or object is in the path of the partition while it is being moved. Manually operated models are also available for smaller openings; however, the downside of manual operation is that the operator needs to be strong enough to pull or push the entire weight of the partition across the opening (remember that all the panels are hinged together).

2. Accordion Doors

Choose accordion doors to quickly create classrooms or meeting areas. They are easy to set in place – simply pull the door across the opening and latch. Optional switches, curves, and posts allow the doors to be moved or stored in alternate locations. Multiple doors can be attached in a straight line, curved, or intersections to create the functionality needed.

They can be used in combination with operable partitions to optimize space flexibility.  Tall, long doors are available with optional electric operation. Marker boards or pass doors are not an option.

3. Portable Panels

Portable panels are unitized individual panels that do not require overhead support, but they provide space separation and mid-range sound control. The top of the panel extends into a ceiling channel for lateral stability. Portables are an alternative if your space lacks sufficient overhead support for operable or accordion partitions and the panels aren't moved frequently. The panels are manually placed into position and fastened together.  Pass doors are an option.

4. Mobile Partitions

Used as a sight divider rather than a room divider, a mobile partition is a series of part-high panels hinged together. They move on floor casters and fold into a compact unit. They are not sound rated, but they can provide visual separation and the panels are hinged, allowing the user to create a curve or angles. Multiple units may be attached to divide larger areas. Optional marker boards add to their versatility. It is also possible to combine various types of partitions for more versatility. Accordion doors may be combined with a portable pass door panel, allowing access to adjacent spaces.

If your budget won't stretch to accomplish everything you want immediately, consider a step-by-step approach—install the track system now and the partitions when you can afford them. It will save you the cost of tearing open your ceilings and/or adding support steel if you decide to add partitions at a later date.

Movable partitions may be the answer to your space dilemma. Take the time to shop and compare. Get references.

Bonnie Swenson is director of marketing for Hufcor, www.hufcor.com.

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