Multi-use school facilities (such as “cafetoriums” – cafeterias that double as auditoriums) are popping up all over Michigan because they save space and save money. But many schools are finding that they are not well-suited to serve multiple purposes. So how can multi-use facilities be optimized for both utility (think cafeteria) and performance (think auditorium)?
One of the most difficult challenges facing architects of gymnatoria, cafeteria, or auditeria is that, typically, the space is already under funded. Every school district faces budget issues, and combining two important gathering spaces into one multi-use space is a great way to save money. Unfortunately, the fit and finish of the room often gets limited by the lowest common denominator of the multiple uses, and architects may find it hard to justify spending money on “value added” services like acoustical engineering.
In fact, the opposite viewpoint should be taken. Since the cafetorium has to serve as a cafeteria by day and an auditorium by night, the space demands flexibility and attention to detail to ensure that the space will work for its most demanding needs. Imagine if an architect designed a cafetorium with fixed seating bolted to the floor. It wouldn’t work would it? But that’s what often happens with cafetoria acoustics. They either a) go completely unaddressed, or b) are “fixed” with an under-treated “let’s just get by” approach. The result is a space that is inflexible and performs poorly acoustically.
As acoustical engineers, it’s our job to show educational clients the importance of acoustics, especially in these large, multi-use spaces. Logic says that if we combine, say, a gymnasium and an auditorium into a gymnatoria, then the total cost should be less than building both spaces separately. But it should also hold true that the combined space should cost more than, say, a single gymnasium, or a single auditorium. The combined space needs an integrated acoustical design that suits the rugged finish demands in a gymnasium, and the acoustical projection and envelopment necessary for an auditorium.
At Acoustics By Design, we work with architects all the time to offer acoustical engineering for cafetoriums and gymnatoria. It is often the unseen aspects of the design that make these spaces truly multi-use.