- By Michael Bennett
- April 1st, 2004
Often, school boards seek designs from architectural firms that will merely get the project in on budget and on time without the requirement to accommodate the extracurricular needs of the tax-paying community footing the bill. Bordentown High School in Bordentown, N.J., took a different approach, that is, to fully welcome the use of its facility by the neighboring community. And, nowhere within the school’s design is this more evident than in the audio and lighting systems for the gyms and theatre.
In its initial meetings with The Thomas Group, the architectural firm from Rochester, N. Y., the school board expressed its intention to open the school’s space to the community at large. After a well planned programming phase, a new high school of 197,000 sq. ft. was designed, taking into careful consideration the district-minded educational program.
The facility’s designs include a 1,000-plus-seat theater, complete with balcony, dressing rooms and a scenery workshop; a 1,000-plus student capacity gymnasium; and a prominent 9,000-sq.-ft. library. The overall space was designed for a potential 25-percent integrated growth.
After taking into account those facilities for students, the school board realized it needed to open the space to outside interests not only in the traditional areas, such as making the gym available to the locals, but to be open as a general philosophy. The concept was for the space to serve the community in other important areas as well, such as for entertainment and public performance. The entire audio and lighting systems were, therefore, designed with this in mind.
The acoustics firm, in charge of audio systems design, Metropolitan Acoustics, LLC (MA) in Philadelphia, understood the mandate from the school board that the overall design make the performance spaces available to the community. This, of course, placed demands on both the acoustical design, as well as the choice of equipment used.
With a venue, the theatre/auditorium, intended to serve as a community performing arts center as well as a high school performance space, the concept placed unusual demands on the design. The space needed to be self-contained, with 1000-plus seats, so that even visiting productions, on a national or local level, would be able to come in and not want for anything.
Understanding the full implications of those concepts and their impact on the acoustic design, the choice of equipment then took on greater emphasis.
More than a year out from construction, Nathan Powell, principal of the acoustics firm, contacted those who would be using the space.
One of the big changes from the standard design is that, at the Bordentown High School, the cafeteria is being slated for multifunctions, like possible school board and PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meetings, band fund-raisers and numerous other functions that demand higher-quality acoustics and audio systems. What was once just the cafeteria has now become a performance space.
Because of these high-quality demands, it was necessary to provide a professional level equipment system — they chose the Harman Professional, integrated product concept. There are seven total systems throughout the complex. In fact, Bordentown High School is the first high school to have Harman’s JBL brand VerTec line array systems.
These are for live performances and international touring acts like Bruce Springsteen and at major events like MTV Video Music Awards and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
One way we are able to assure quality in a demanding job like this one, claims Powell,is to use the Harman concept of specifying gear that is all under one umbrella. It is a great concept, and it’s easy to explain to the client because it makes sense. For example, the speaker design engineers are at my disposal, and I can talk to them about what I want in a cabinet design. I can then combine that cabinet with my favorite amplifier.
Another element that has been introduced with this project is working with a rigging company in the design stages. The designers and engineers have been working with a company in Greenfield, Mass., called Polar Focus, which designs a complete turnkey rigging system that forms the transition between roof structure over the theatre, gym and auxiliary gym with the loudspeakers.These turnkey systems are complete, Powell states, with every wire rope assembly already made.
The components will be preassembled to the maximum extent possible. Then the rigging systems arrive labeled and grouped by speaker, by cluster and by room within the school.
Though it’s true that most school boards do not care about the specs of an amplifier or that it works best with a certain kind of speaker and signal processing, they do care about value and quality. Add to that, the demands on a system the school board is making by insisting on a high-quality, pro-level performance system to accommodate outside performances as well as school and local events, and they begin to care about what is being designed into the system.
The bottom line is understanding what the architect’s visions are and what the people at the school want, declares Powell. The people at the school are savvy now as they are aware of how things are done on Broadway, for example, and want something similar for their own uses. Therefore, it’s comforting to know I can rely on a company like Harman to meet those demands.