“My needs for classroom space keeps changing,” is a statement commonly heard any time school administrators gather. Regardless of whether you manage an elementary school, middle school, high school or college, your spacial needs today are not the same as they were last year, and may not even be the same as they were yesterday!

There are a number of reasons for these constant changes. Programs, such as English as a second language, Chapter 1, before and after school sessions, etc., simply did not exist in the not too distant past. Enrollments keep shifting as our populations move out of — and then back into — our major cities.

On the economic side of the ledger, taxpayers are demanding more. “A school gymnasium is basically used during the daytime, Monday through Friday. Our park district gymnasium is used mostly during the evening and on weekends. Why should we as taxpayers have to pay for two gymnasiums (or libraries) when we really only need one?”’

Good question, and the answer is,“you don’t!”

Since the late 1980s a new tool has been used by school administrators to help manage their constantly changing needs for private or semi-private teaching areas. Portable, flexible room dividers are now the “in vogue” way too properly manage their spacial needs.

The most popular models are freestanding portable room dividers, which come in a variety of heights, lengths and colors to meet the needs of any teaching situation. Being constructed as a series of hinged individual panels, these flexible room dividers can be set up in any configuration needed in seconds. Portability is important so the room dividers can easily move from one area of the room — or for that matter the school — to another. Likewise as enrollment shifts or other criteria change within the district, portable room dividers can be moved to another school or stored for future use.

What do administrators look for besides flexibility and versatility in a freestanding room divider? First of all, they look for stability. The supports at each end of the divider — commonly called “end frames” — should be as wide as is available. The wider the end frame, the more stable the divider. That’s physics.

Next, no floor is perfectly level. To aid in stability, some models have built-in, self-leveling casters that “read” the dips and rises in the floor much like the shock absorbers of your car. Lastly, while administrators understand that nothing that offers so much versatility can be sound proof, they do expect it to be sound absorbing.

As you may guess, portable room dividers can be used to set up needed classrooms on a moments notice for any reason. Sections of libraries, gymnasiums, pods or any open area are all candidates for this useful managerial tool.

Following is an example of how one school solved their space problem and saved substantially on their expenses.

How One School Conquered Their Space Crunch

Like so many other schools in Southern California and across the nation, Santa Monica Boulevard Elementary Charter School was extremely cramped for space. Filing cabinets were being used to separate one large multipurpose room into a technology center, storage area, office-and one-one-one learning environment for special education students.

“Needless to say, it wasn’t working out,” says Linda Lee, technology coordinator at the school. “The students could see right into the other work areas, and it was extremely noisy and distracting for everyone.”

But like so many other schools, Lee knew she would have to make the most of the space she had to work with. The charter simply couldn’t afford any additional classrooms, and even if it could, waiting was not an option. The campus was expecting 1,500 students in the fall, and the special education students would be out a private place where resource specialists could conduct speech therapy, if she didn’t move fast.

After a quick search on the Internet, Lee found a manufacturer of versatile, flexible room dividers that offers online space planning information, as well as free information kits to help make the decision-making process easier for facilities managers and other district personnel.

“Everything I needed was right there on their Website,” said Lee. “I placed the order and in less than three months, I had the space I needed at a cost our school could afford.”

For approximately $10,000, Santa Monica Elementary School’s large 26 ft. by 24 ft. multipurpose room was transformed into a space containing one nine ft. by 13 ft., one 15 ft. by 13 ft. and one 17 ft. by nine ft. room, as well as a seven ft. by nine ft. storage area. The walls are six ft. tall and include three doors, which help to create more private study and work areas, as well as mallard green designer fabric that blends in nicely with the school’s d├ęcor and surroundings.

Screenflex, the Illinois-based company that manufactures the dividers, designed the room dividers so that speech therapy could be conducted in one area, teachers could prepare lesson plans in another and items could be stored in the remaining section. All of the room dividers are on casters so they can be easily wheeled away and stored in just minutes. They fold neatly and compactly, accordion style, so that the large multipurpose room can still be used for assemblies, programs or special events as often as necessary.

One advantage of this type of solution is that a school may have tremendous growth one year, but a significant decline the next. Portable room dividers allow schools to change their use of space as needs change, at a much lower cost than using modular classrooms.

In addition to portability and versatility, partitions also offer fabric and vinyl finishes that are tackable and can be conveniently used to display students’ artwork or papers. Partitions are also readily available in different heights, and some can be locked together to form unlimited lengths, depending on the school’s needs. Doors, windows, dry erase marker boards and a variety of other features can also be added to make your dividers more aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Portable partitions today are being used by high schools, colleges, churches, hospitals and even government training rooms. They can transform any open area into a Sunday school, a cafeteria into study hall or a conference room into a private meeting place.

Flexible portable room dividers have become a standard piece of equipment in today’s school to the delight of administrators and taxpayers alike.