Movable Walls: Division Equals Addition


By: Larry Broweleit

Do any of these apply to your church?

* Ministry groups fight over who gets what room.

* You must use off-campus facilities for Sunday School classes or other activities.

* You are considering starting a daughter church to relieve the space crunch.

These are good problems to have, problems of a thriving church. But for growth to continue, you need to take action, which may include both renovation and new construction.

Method: When a church adds or remodels space, it should design with flexibility in mind. Reason: Flexibility allows the church to house more activities with less space. That’s value.

Key concept: Make one plus one equal three by using movable wall systems.
Example: If two classrooms can be combined by opening a folding wall, you have three spaces from which to choose.

Here’s a four-step plan for incorporating movable wall systems into your expansion plans.

Survey the Options

A number of products can help a church flex its space:

* Operable walls. Operable walls are movable wall-panel systems with doors built into the panels. One manufacturer is Panelfold, Inc. (phone 305/688-3501).


– They typically are supported from overhead tracks in the ceiling.

– Finish is carpet, fabric, or vinyl, and chalkboards can be mounted.

– They work for openings as high as 32′ by any length.

Price range: Installed, from $19 to $60 per square foot of partition surface, depending on the finish, accessories, and manual or electrical operation. Note: If structural support is needed, cost goes up.

* Folding doors. Sometimes called accordion partitions, folding doors are easy to use and are commonly used in churches to form classrooms and meeting rooms.


– Finish is typically vertically ribbed carpet or vinyl.

– They are mounted from a ceiling track and can be up to 25′ tall and can fill openings as wide as 75′.

– They lack flat surfaces for mounting accessories such as chalkboards.

Price range: $15 to $26 per square foot, installed.

* Freestanding partitions. One freestanding system by Woodflex Furnishings (phone 708/215-7097) is built into a cabinet on rollers.


– Eighteen feet of six-foot-high partitions on rollers pull out of both ends of the unit.

– The partitions can form a variety of enclosures.

– The partitions have a cloth surface, suitable for tacking.

– The cabinet features storage space and a marker board.

Price range: From $11 to $18 per square foot, delivered.

Find Compatible Activities

If activities are to share the same space, they need to be compatible in a number of ways:

* Scheduling. Multiple use of space assumes activities will be scheduled for different time slots. Example: At Friday Harbor (Washington) Presbyterian Church, we used operable walls to make a fellowship hall from areas not normally used at the worship hour: the foyer, a small fellowship room, and a choir warm-up room. Bonus: These spaces can open to the sanctuary to provide overflow seating.

* Space configuration. The spaces used for small-group activities may combine well for activities that meet less frequently but require a larger room. Example: Dividing a fellowship hall into classrooms.

* Volume of the room. Ceiling heights affect usability. Example: I once attended an adult class held in an area created by suspending panels from ropes in a gym. Problem: The 25-foot ceiling gave the space a poor sense of scale, making the room feel impersonal.

* Decor. The environment required for adult education matches that of a fellowship hall, but not a preschool room. Look for activities that need similar environments.

Example: We have used sliding-glass doors to open a narthex onto a church lounge. Why it works: The two environments are compatible. The lounge serves as narthex overflow and provides a good place for coffee before and
after worship.

* Materials and storage. Will the spaces prove adequate for such items as supplies, chalkboards, and chair and table storage-both divided and as one large room?

Example: We designed folding doors that pulled out from the walls of a multiuse sanctuary. When closed, the doors screened chair and table storage. When open, they separated small classroom spaces.

Decide What You Need

A wall system needs to meet your particular needs. Consider:

* Acoustics. Do the walls need to serve as sound barriers, so one group doesn’t get distracted by another? Or do you just want partitions to muffle echoes?

Key: If a sound barrier is important, make sure you select a wall engineered to do the job.

* Visual screening. You may want a visual barrier, such as partial-height systems that prevent eye contact.

Idea: A curtain can close off the chancel area of a sanctuary/fellowship hall. When the curtain is open, the chancel adds a formality to the room, preparing it for worship. And when closed, it’s time to eat!

* Durability. If the partition is subject to heavy use, consider a steel-supported movable wall system. Example: At University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, we surrounded a gymnasium with classrooms that open up with operable walls.

* Operation. A massive wall to divide a gym probably needs to be motorized. For a classroom, a folding or operable wall may be the easiest for the teacher to use.

Use Your Imagination

Any product that can divide spaces may find a use in your church. Examples:

* Sliding-glass doors.

* Garage doors.

* Landscape partitions.

* Metal gates.

When we think about what needs to be done, chances are we can find a product to meet that need.

(The above material appeared in a January/February 1992 issue of Your Church.)

Christian Information Network