Here is the final part of the three part article on Church Multipurpose Rooms. Please see the link at the bottom to download the entire article as a PDF.
7. Stages and Platforms
Whether it is a platform designed for your praise and worship team, a small recessed stage for youth plays (maybe even doubling as a classroom in a pinch), or a temporary platform to give a speaker a little height, thinking ahead is critical. Even temporary platforms will need power and audio-visual connections, and without planning you will end up duct taping cables to the floor (yuck). Also think of how this placement works with natural and electric light sources. Avoid backlighting a speaker; also, be aware that any sort of extra light on a projection screen makes good projection more difficult. You also need to consider accessibility. Even if you can make a case that the platform is “primarily intended for a regularly occurring religious ritual” (Current Texas Accessibility Standard) and thus in theory exempt from accessibility requirements, do you really want to excluded disabled people at your church? Making things accessible does create issues, though. Accessible ramps are one foot long for every one inch of rise, so they quickly get long and cumbersome, whereas lifts (if allowed) tend to be bulky, loud, and costly, so you have to work these in carefully.
First United Methodist Church, Temple, TX
This multi-user space is designed for FUMC’s active Praise and Worship service and dining activities. Full lighting, sound, and camera systems (as well as a retractable A/V booth) were designed for this space, which both ties back to the historic sanctuary and looks forward to more A/V related ministry.
Also consider that if you have a permanent platform and ball sports, you may want to have a way of protecting the equipment on stage from the balls. We have found that stage curtains, even if not used for performances, can be a great way to protect the stage. Oh, and don’t forget the audio-visual area: it may need protection, too.
Though not technically part of the multi-user room, showers can be an important requirement for some uses. If you have showers, you can more easily lend/rent your space out to traveling youth groups. Also, it may allow you to be designated an emergency shelter. However, before you rush to add showers, keep in mind they can also be a liability both in the legal sense (the world we live in has a lot of creeps and lawyers) and in a maintenance sense. When we incorporate showers into a design, we recommend making the showers so they can be locked off when not being used by a supervised activity.
First Presbyterian Church, Bryan, TX
This space is used for basketball, praise & worship, and a Mother’s Day Out program. Note how the basketball goals retract completely into the ceiling.
Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning. Ideally you never see, hear, or consider the HVAC system when using a space because normally, when you do notice the system, it is because something is not working right. Make sure whoever is designing the system knows how many people you plan to have in the space—and be realistic. The code requires outside air to be pumped into the space based on this number, and heating or cooling large amounts of outside air is costly both in unit size and long-term bills. A CO2 sensor and a variable damper can help control this. Try not to have the unit on top of the roof of a space you want to be quiet—initially or eventually the units will make noise you don’t want to hear. Similarly, plan and size your supply ducts and return ducts so they have large volumes and low flows to avoid air noise and so they have enough run/turns and/or a sound attenuator to keep noise from the unit out of the space. Make sure you at least have a programmable thermostat, and plan on pre-cooling the space before an event. It is very hard for a unit to all of a sudden deal with the sudden influx of 400 people and the opening of doors that comes with that.
St. Bonafice, Comfort, TX
This first phase building is used now for worship, but will become the fellowship hall when the new sanctuary is eventually built.
Acoustics in multi-user spaces can be quite difficult, especially with ball sports. Most of the good, durable material we pick for these spaces tends to be hard acoustically, which gives us large echoing halls. Using sound-absorbent ceiling tiles can help—be sure to review with an acoustician where you need hard ceiling to project sound and soft ceilings to absorb. We also use a lot of wall acoustical panels, but be careful. The normal fabric-wrapped fiberglass panels only work well up high where they get less abuse. Down low, especially with ball sports, you need something more durable. Fabric-wrapped Tectum panels can work nicely—you get the durability of Tectum without the look of Tectum. We have also found some fabric for panels that can be custom-colored and finished to look like the walls, as well as some fabrics that are washable for times when they are in hands’ reach. If your panels are low, think about protecting their corners with trim.
Every space is different because every set of users is different, and an experienced architect is really useful in planning. Because we have designed more than 20 of these multi-user spaces, we’ve learned what questions to ask, what uses have synergies with others, and where the potential pitfalls lie. When interviewing architects, it can be helpful to ask if the team you’re considering working with has experience designing this kind of space – and even better if you can visit some of the projects they’ve done.
Of course, we’d love an opportunity to help you design your multi-user space, but the most important thing is that you work with an experienced architect who understands the unique needs of this hard-working space.
I hope this article has been helpful. Good luck with your future project!