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Portable seating selection guide

By John Chastain

How to select portable seating for your multi-use space that will stand the test of time.

Your church plans to use the largest open space in the facility to its fullest potential. This will mean worship on Sunday, followed by a variety of other uses during the week. Seating will need to be portable so that it can be stored or reconfigured; but, it also needs to be more substantial than metal folding chairs.

What should you consider in the selection process?

Draw upon experience
Start by consulting a company with experience building chairs for churches and for other public spaces where multi-use is common. The manufacturer’s local representative should be willing to meet with you, discuss your vision for the seating, and offer solutions based on experience. He or she can measure the space (or work with a drawing if construction hasn’t begun) to determine capacity and provide price quotes.

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Match features to your needs
Framing: Hardwood frames provide a warm ambience for any gathering. For churches replacing existing pews, wood frame chairs make the transition from pews to chairs much easier.

Ganging: Systems vary. Metal gangers are more durable than plastic, and the design should be simple enough for volunteers to use.

Stacking: Not all chairs are stackable, and the quantity per stack can vary. If under-seat bookracks are needed, it might affect stack quantity.

Portability: Two-wheeled dollies specifically designed for moving chair stacks are best, since chair legs can slip off standard dollies. Chairs shouldn’t be too heavy for the average person to lift.

Durability: When chairs are moved and stacked, there’s more potential for wear. Mortise-and-tenon or finger-jointed frames will stand up to heavy use better than joints that are screwed or doweled. Good-quality chair frames include two horizontal stringers: one to connect the two back legs and one for the front legs.

Finish: Catalyzed varnish prevents wood surfaces from becoming grimy from hand oil and general wear. Lacquer finishes tend to be softer and less durable.

Beyondfoldingchairs2Fabrics: Coordinating fabric and floor covering is easier when a wide selection of patterns is available. They should be rated heavy-duty for abrasion resistance, and include some form of stain resistance.

Comfort: Several style and cushion options should be available, allowing you to tailor comfort to your requirements.

Define quality
In addition, you’ll want to do some of your own research. True quality includes both tangible and intangible elements.

Sit in the chair and twist back and forth. If the frame flexes with you rather than remaining rigid, it is likely that the joints will eventually loosen in actual use.

Ask to see a cut-away of the frame construction. This will allow you to verify the quality joinery, as mentioned in the previous section.

Insist on visiting facilities where chairs from the chosen manufacturer have been in use for at least five years. Are the frames solid? Are seat foam, fabric and finish holding up well?
Seek references. This includes churches and architects regularly involved with church projects.

Ask how projects were managed by the company. Was there good communication? Were products delivered on time as promised? What about customer service if there was a warranty issue? These are some of the intangibles which can make your project a joy or a burden.

Look for payment terms allowing you to take delivery before final payment. If you must pay prior to receiving the seating, there might be less incentive for the supplier to respond promptly if any issues arise.

BeyondfoldingchairsWhat about pricing?  
Although every church is concerned with budgets, many place too much emphasis on the initial price and fail to think long-term. A difference of $20 per chair amounts to $1 per year over 20 years of use.

Good stewardship remembers what Ben Franklin once said: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

With some due diligence, your church can make a wise decision and enjoy beautiful, quality portable seating that will serve a variety of uses for many years.

John Chastain of Chastain Associates (Maineville, OH) is the territory sales representative for Sauder® Worship Seating.

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READER SNAPSHOT:

One-in-five (21%) of our readers will invest in new chairs or seating within the next 18 months.

Source: “The Church Executive Reader Survey”

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