Project Management | 05/10/2011
By Rob Warner
A growing number of schools and colleges in St. Louis and surrounding areas have been investing in new or significantly improved auditoriums on their campuses in recent years, despite the sluggish economic times. Today's school auditoriums are actually sophisticated performing arts centers featuring dramatic architecture, multi-functional classroom spaces, theaters with professional caliber staging, lighting, acoustics and extensive amenities for the comfort and convenience of audience members. These spaces are far more sophisticated than their predecessors, and constitute extremely complex projects unlike anything else on today's school campuses.
Compared to a typical classroom building, today's performing arts facilities require special knowledge and experience to design, plan and construct. School leaders considering such facilities should know that extraordinary planning and extensive collaboration among numerous expert parties is crucial to overcome the special challenges they will face.
Planning is the Key
Every school considering a performing arts facility should first create a planning team at the very outset of the project to determine the facility's needs and how to best proceed. This team should include school administrators, fine arts faculty, a theater planning consultant, the architect and a construction contractor experienced in planning and building performing arts facilities.
This team should first determine how the facility will be used. The choices are surprisingly numerous, including:
Once these selections have been made, the planning team needs to determine what amenities and features will be needed to fulfill the desired functions. A very wide variety of features can go in the facility based on needs, size and available budget. Among these options are:
Once these features have been determined, the challenge is to fit it all together in a building that is appealing, stylish, functional, cost effective and efficient. Building such specialized facilities in a cost-effective manner can be extremely challenging when it comes to working with the systems, materials and processes involved. Experience is the best teacher in designing and building such complex facilities. Having an architect and a contractor with previous performing arts facility experience can be crucial in developing and implementing the plan best suit the project and avoiding costly delays.
For example, a performing arts center must be designed to eliminate outside noise. This can mean using soundproof doors and walls instead of standard materials. It also means finding a location other than the roof for placing HVAC equipment in order to eliminate the chance for equipment vibration and noise.
Another example focuses on maximizing audience comfort throughout the building, including lobbies and other public spaces. Today's performing arts venues often utilize large amounts of exterior glass and skylights in their designs. This can require multiple HVAC systems to maintain even air temperatures throughout the building.
In addition to audience comfort, today's facilities are often equipped to host many different types of performances. Therefore the rigging, audio visual systems and lighting systems must be flexible enough to meet the requirements of performances as varied as concerts, plays, presentations, lectures, graduation ceremonies and large meetings.
Further, the school may want to use these new facilities to host other types of events. Typically the lobby areas are designed to be easily reconfigured to host wedding receptions, dinner parties and other events that require a large open seating area.
Because of their versatility of uses, there appears to be no slowing down in the popularity of these facilities among public and private schools and colleges. To get the most out of a new or upgraded auditorium or performing arts facility, and to get the most value for the money, it is essential for school administrators and leaders to understand and plan for the very high level of complexities involved. All members of the planning team, including the contractors, should be involved at the earliest stages to ensure the best results.
Rob Warner is a Project Manager at S. M. Wilson & Co.