Gymnatorium Audio System Costs and Expectations

Gymnatoriums are typically used for athletic games, performances, presentations, assemblies, and other social events. They’re multi-purpose, and multi-use spaces–a gymnasium, and an auditorium combined.

Given the versatility in technology integration for speakers, mounting, and rigging hardware, and audio processing equipment today, a well performing gymnatorium can be designed to satisfy its multiple intended uses. While this benefit frees the client and project team from having to settle on one well performing function while making big compromises on others, it doesn’t aid in guiding a client’s expectations on how much equipment and labor will be needed and how much it will cost-causing expectations to be unrealistic. This is where laying the groundwork for a good design comes in.

While a client may want to build out or retrofit a gymnasium to be a multi-purpose space, a common perception is that the project will be a glorified gymnasium. Therefore, a well-defined list of the space’s multi-use functions is critical, and the following questions should be answered:

* What are the primary functions of this multi-use space?

* What are considered “nice to have” functions?

* Do I need a high performing sound system or simply one that’s adaptable?

* Should I defer some of the equipment costs and incorporate infrastructure that’ll support the system we need later?

Typically, the best solution is to provide the user with the most acoustically suitable space and enough cabling and electrical infrastructure to support a future high-quality system when additional funds become available. Often the clients that have a “working” budget, but not an “unlimited” budget, are unaware of a variety of audio and acoustical challenges. For example, it is important they understand that regardless of the event that the gymnatorium supports, the space must accommodate hundreds of people. It is necessary for people to hear speeches, music, and the person standing next to them comfortably and coherently.

For most gymnatoriums, having enough absorptive coverage is the most important investment, as it promotes higher speech intelligibility and establishes a basis for the audience’s auditory comfort and comprehension. Properly installed and distributed acoustical panel installations provide control of high sound pressure levels and allow good speech intelligibility from sound reinforcement systems and for people having conversations. Ideally, fiberglass panel absorption should cover about 35 percent of walls and ceiling to achieve a target of about 1s of reverberation time (length of time it takes for sound energy to decay to inaudibility– 60 decibels) and could run $50-100,000 for a gymnatorium.

High-end sound systems come in a variety of form factors. Dead-hung stacked speaker arrays provide full sound level uniformity, consistent frequency response over the entire audience, and allow greater flexibility in placement of microphones. Wall-mounted electronically controllable line arrays provide performance, coverage flexibility, and a practical form factor for assemblies, ceremonies and presentations, as well as being less conspicuous than a speaker stack. This is fine if music performances aren’t frequent. Depending on the deployment, a system can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The client’s budget may not allow for a fixed, installed performance grade audio system on Day One. Making critical decisions in the design phase(s) may however align and re-define their expectations. Outfitting a space with necessary electrical infrastructure in addition to acoustically treating the space to support the preferred audio system in the future is the way to go. In lieu of a new system, a portable PA, pre-owned existing equipment, and rental equipment can be used.

As a designer, it is a must to convey that high-quality audio equipment and acoustical absorption packages are essential components to incorporate in the space to support a positive experience for those attending. The key to getting these spaces to perform well is to consider the audio and acoustics early in the design process.

Kevin Burlinson is an associate in the audiovisual department at Shen Milsom & Wilke.

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