Sound Competitor

Progressive attitudes and tradition enjoy a healthy relationship at Lancaster Christian School in Lancaster, PA, a K-12 facility that's owned and operated by the parents whose children attend the school. In operation since 1954, one change the school was definitely ready for was the Student Life Center, a versatile new space where sports, music, drama, assemblies and other group activities would feel equally at home-sometimes on the same day.

For the design/build team of Environmental Acoustics (EAI) and Performance Audio, Video Lighting & Stage Systems the 120-foot long by 100-foot wide Lancaster facility is representative of a growing list of flexible-use spaces currently being built. "The concept of the performing arts/hybrid multipurpose room where athletic events are also occurring is something we see frequently in our field right now," noted David Still, senior acoustician and systems integrator for EAI. "A facility such as the Student Life Center seems to be an intermediary step that allows people to manage their resources and accommodate growth and expansion."
Still continued, "What's always challenging about this type of a project are the competing uses for the space. Both acoustically and performance-wise, anytime you have a multipurpose room the challenge is to integrate impact-sensitive equipment into a space where basketballs and volleyballs might be actively flying around. Performance technology isn't designed to take impacts, so we're putting in portable racks that house the electronics and consoles for the FOH location (located adjacent to the sports play area, with theatrical hanging fixtures and projectors over the play area). So the challenge acoustically is to come up with a blended environment that serves all these competing needs adequately, and the challenge technologically is to minimize infrastructure requirements in the public-access areas of the multipurpose room and protect that impact-sensitive equipment."

Within those challenges, the team had multiple goals including a high degree of intelligibility for speech, high fidelity for music with a wide dynamic range, a future-expandable video system, a "Quik Setup" system for basic voice applications and a minimum of cabling. It all services an open architecture of portable control centers with multiple access points to control audio, video, dimming and (projection and curtain) motors. Four locations for control were specified for the launch of the Student Life Center (with more additions possible in the future): front-of-house location, the scorer's table, stage location and an off-court ancillary storage location.

"The question was," Still explained, "how do we take multiple locations and reduce the bulk of the cable that's going to be required for as the portable equipment rack umbilicals? All of the systems are networked; the [128 channel-capable] audio is on a Digigram EtherSound digital audio network (see sidebar), the video system is on Extron's twisted-pair protocol, and the dimming system is on an ETC-net protocol. What that basically means is we were able to connect all these systems with just six RJ45s."

BSS Soundweb serves as the DSP engine, covering the space's three audio delivery zones with output to Crest amplifiers, EAW 5100 speakers, and Bag End dual 18-inch low-profile slant baffle subs. "There's a customized control panel on the BSS with two flavors," Still noted. "One selects the Crest FOH mixing console as the input source for the audio system. The other selects a 'hands-free' option called, 'Quik-Setup,' that shifts input from the larger audio mixing console to an automatic mixer for simple voice-only applications like assemblies or athletic events with the announcer.
"I liked the EAW speakers for this application because of their clarity, fidelity and their ability to deliver the SPL that we were looking for at both athletic and performance events. The Crest CA series of amps were selected because of their reliability."

For the designers and builders of performance technology into Lancaster Christian School's newest addition, the project represents interesting and functional solutions to the challenge of providing multiple operator access and control points to the system.

Environmental Acoustics...
Performance Audio Video, Lighting & Stage Systems...

David Weiss is a writer based in New York.

Networking Audio
David Still and his team specified the Digigram EtherSound digital audio network to accomplish his often daunting goals. With its ability to rout and distribute 64 channels of audio over a single Cat-5e cable, the designers were able to eliminate the mass of copper cable paths that accompany such a system in an analog format, among other benefits. "It's very efficient," Still commented. "If Lancaster Christian needed four or five or 10 access points in the system, that was no problem. We were in the digital domain, so we could have as many splits as we wanted.

"Also, the EtherSound system provided us with remote control of the actual [analog] inputs into the system, where we could specify them either as mic level or line level. It was important to me that those controls be available remotely from the operator's location. The other thing that's important [to us] is the way EtherSound handles putting the signals on and extracting them off the network. Basically, because any input may be assigned to any output, the software takes the place of patch bays. So, instead of having a physical patch bay device, you now have a virtual patch bay that you can reconfigure and save for recall as a future setup."

Still added, "Also, because it behaves like a true digital audio network, you can extract the signal, once it's on the network, as many times as you like whether it's at FOH, a production room location, a dedicated stage monitor location, or a broadcast/recording location."