COTM Auditorium Remodel
My previous life as a touring guy did not prepare me to serve as the Production Manager and Audio Director of a large church. Yep, you are correct, I quit traveling and took the same job I had been making fun of for years... Still can’t believe how uninformed I had been—unbeknownst to me before I accepted this position at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK was that they were the largest church in the region with a campus sitting on more than 300 acres of property and had a weekly attendance of about 10,000 people. The church had managed to stay quite current with its service content so someone with my production background felt immediately at ease. I still feel like I’m part of an awesome production machine and honestly, I had no idea that I didn’t have to travel everyday to do what I love. Being an integral part of communicating a positive message with impact feels like the right thing to do and the right place to be—some of the work I’m most proud of (and the most challenging) has been done here.
This church has recently completed the largest phase of a massive campus-wide renovation project. The decision to preserve both our physical plant and secondary spaces was not an easy one when it came to the main auditorium—it meant that the auditorium would have to be gutted and redesigned while maintaining the current floor slope, exterior walls, and roof design all the while keeping the attached building spaces open so church activities could continue uninterrupted in all adjacent spaces. This gave us the “box” for the new auditorium design and gave us a starting point as to what could be reused and what would be reworked. In the end, every production area was either torn out and rebuilt or completely overhauled to accommodate the level of production we were in need of.
When this auditorium was built, it was relevant for where the church was at the time but it didn’t allow the production much room to grow or change for the future. This remodel would need to not only be comprehensive but allow for future changes and adaptations farther down the line. Now don’t get me wrong—we were having some really great events over the last few years but there were several big-ticket production systems that were on their last legs and massive problems were on the horizon.
We had made the decision a few years ago to go without any large-scale church consulting firm. These companies can be great for some situations but with the level of experience found within COTM’s own production staff—it became apparent that we could save the money on consultants and put it into the gear. We reached out to COTM’s long-time associate Brant Doell and Strategic Connections (formerly One Source Building Technologies) to assist in integrating our new design into this existing building and to help strategize on how best to make all of this come together on this rather short 18-week timeline. Brant and the Strategic Connections team were assisted throughout the install by our own paid technical staff—this not only helped COTM realize a significant savings on labor but it gave us a great working knowledge of how this very complicated system was put together and decreased our learning curve when it came time to make it all work.
The decision to go with two large 16’x9’ Barco I-6 walls instead of projectors was made pretty simple once we experienced them in the old auditorium. We had rented them for an Easter production and knew immediately we could never go back to conventional projection. Our video supplier Evan French and his company Big Picture Productions hammered out a deal and this became our new building block for the video side of the renovation.
COTM has had a fairly extensive background in television and movie production, some may have heard of The Gospel Bill Show—Willie George (i.e.: Gospel Bill) is the Founder and Pastor of COTM, so we were already used to video being a major part of our events. We had been renting our camera package from Big Picture for quite some time with the thought of going to a High Definition platform in the future but after seeing the massive change in the video quality just from the LED screens we opted to stay with our conventional Hitachi cameras instead of making the jump to all HD heads. I know this is not “cool” by some, but we have no broadcast other then Vimeo uploads and archiving, so the investment required for HD cameras just didn’t make any sense although we did install the necessary groundwork to accommodate HD cameras in the future if needed.
Along with the LED walls and the camera rental, Big Picture provided us with a new Barco FSN-150 switcher. This was one of the few switcher products we found that had the onboard effects we wanted and would keep our latency to a minimum. We added a nice supplement of video front-end devices that gave us an all HD signal path in the control room, HD feeds to all closed circuit televisions and fiber-optic feeds to the LED walls.
We rounded this out by adding our complement of existing Mac Pro towers to the mix, maintaining ProPresenter as our computer graphics platform and Final Cut for all live service captures.
Overall, the video looks absolutely fantastic, is easy to operate and has been able to accommodate everything we have thrown at it. Our live captures look good and every seat in the house has a great view.
Given the focus that COTM has always placed on great sound reinforcement, there was no choice but to go with a line array—but making that happen and staying within budget was the challenge. It became obvious that Harman International had the goods to make this a reality.
The final speaker system is comprised of (38) JBL Vertec 4088 modules flown in (4) arrays with (16) JBL ASB6128V subs, (10) flown and (6) under-stage; Front-fills are (7) JBL AC28/95’s housed behind the finish work around the perimeter of the stage.
Amplifiers are (49) Crown MA5000i amps and (10) CT 2000 and CT 3000 amps. All control and routing is handled with (8) BSS Soundweb London’s and (2) DBX 4800’s.
All of our wireless systems had to be reworked in light of the 700MHz issues and to salvage any useable systems we currently owned. Wireless is a challenge here as our geographical location puts us in a frequency hotbed and most of church events utilize about 50 wireless channels between microphones and in-ear monitors—not to mention all the wireless com belt-packs and 2-way radios floating around. Needless to say, our Intermodulation Analysis software from Professional Wireless Systems gets quite a workout... Everything has worked great utilizing all Shure products for microphones and a combination of both Shure and Sennheiser products for all in-ear systems.
The existing conduit lines under the original slab had become waterlogged and were compromised over the years—and it didn’t necessarily fill me with confidence to splice onto the existing copper to reach the new patch-bay location. So we made the decision to replace all of our existing snake lines with a Whirlwind SPC83P 3-way splitter system which utilized all new IJIS cable runs along with some CAT6 runs for any future audio, video or lighting growth we might encounter. This snake system is coupled to several Whirlwind Patchmasters located backstage so all input and output patching remains flexible but extremely simple to deal with.
The FOH position is made up of (2) MIDAS Heritage 3000 consoles. Yeah, I know this is where everyone groans and says “Why not digital?”. Well, we already had an H3000 in pristine condition—and adding an additional H3000 back in my touring days was always an easy deal—so it seemed to be an easy solution for this application. One of the wizards at Strategic Connections made me a cross-connect cable to link the console electronics and Whirlwind built a harness to link up the outputs—done deal. I will say this, it really feels good to have this many analog inputs that sound this great—I am never buried in layers or submenus and to be honest, it feels like I can still be an audio engineer instead of a computer genius when “in the moment”. Every “A” console has it own list of pros and cons—but for this particular situation, sticking with this version of Midas “awesomeness” serves us great. The outboard gear list is fairly simple: a complement of Klark-Teknik Square-Ones for compressors and gates, several effect units from Eventide, TC Electronic and Lexicon and a few DBX and UA tube preamps.
The coolest thing about this particular audio rig is that Jim Brawley did the EASE modeling for this room AND took a week out of his very busy schedule to traverse to Tulsa and really dial in all of the PA components. I knew of Mr. Brawley by reputation only and was blown away that Strategic Connections worked it out to incorporate him in to the mix. Aside from being a gentlemen, I felt he did his homework by watching some of our services on Vimeo allowing him to become familiar with both my mixing style and our high-energy service content.
The audio package is outstanding—everything sounds perfect and sweet—it gives back exactly what I put into it—transparent, in your face, adaptable...All the adjectives you would want to use to describe it are applicable. In short—being the audio engineer in this room is the best seat in the house.
A few years ago I was able to convince my good friend Daniel Connell to leave the comfort and predictability of his tour bus bunk and move out here to serve as our Lighting Designer. Due to the many lighting changes we had implemented after his arrival on staff, the lighting system didn’t require a complete overhaul.
We currently maintain a large inventory of Vari-lite, Martin and conventional fixtures, control by GrandMA and Pathport, ETC dimming throughout and all necessary infrastructure you would expect in a system of this size but the majority of our moving light package is rented based on each specific design. This gives Daniel the creative freedom to swap out gear and switch things around as needed. “Gearing-up” for larger events and designs or scaling things down when needed has proven to be great option for us.
Since much of our stage lighting was already sorted, we devoted some time to coming up with a better data distribution plan. The original auditorium had incorporated only two DMX universes and we had been getting by thus far by using extra lines from FOH to stage and occasionally renting a GrandMA NSP for larger events. As part of this project we were able to integrate a network of Pathport nodes throughout the room. This provided data to our built-in lighting elements such as dimmer racks and architectural LED’s using a combination of Pathport DMX Manager Plus 4-point nodes and Pathport UNO nodes. To accommodate the frequent redesign of our components onstage, we went with the Pathport Touring Edition nodes for a more flexible solution. The seamless integration of the MA Lighting GrandMA control console and these Pathport nodes allows a total of eight universes to be distributed anywhere in the room.
Although most of the lighting changes were centered around infrastructure, the most obvious change was a complete overhaul of the house lighting. Prior to the remodel, the houselights were comprised of numerous 8’ fluorescent fixtures. Several years ago the church had begun to integrate a few various dimmable lighting fixtures here and there to try and create a warmer atmosphere but it did not allow for the proper coverage to light the room evenly. After going through several types of fixtures trying to find the proper “warmth” for the room, the ETC Source 4 Par ended up providing a quality of light that was warmer and more friendly than any of the architectural fixtures we had tested. The final result in the house is a warm atmosphere with extremely even coverage that greatly accents the color palette of the room.
The design also allowed us to focus on how to consolidate the dimming, power distribution and data which helped make our moving light integration and motor control a much simpler process. To be forward-thinking on what the future holds within our lighting system, we devoted considerable thought to cable management, cable drops, and floor access panels. Not only do our light and set designs look current and stay relevant, the lighting control areas throughout stay neat and organized. Although it involves a great deal of cabling and gear, everything has a home.
The final result of the lighting system is a room that is extremely comfortable and warm for the audience, a stage that is flexible and accommodating for our lighting designs while maintaining a sophisticated control system that has lightened the load considerably for our technical staff.
STAGE, RIGGING, & BACKSTAGE
Hands down, the most labor intensive part of this remodel was the stage—between the demolition and removal of the old stage altogether, the backstage wall, and removing the overhead facade that housed a small lighting grid and outdated video projection and screens. The build-back gave us a massive flat stage with plenty of backstage space. I was desiring enough room backstage to be able to build and dress band risers and backline gear quickly and we got it with room to grow. The architectural team from Selser Schaefer Architects led by Hank Spieker really nailed it with this space. They married a creative plan of repurposing old rooms and hallways in a non-conventional manner with the practical production needs we were desperate for. We now have a stage level loading dock with a 10’ wide overhead door opening into our backstage space—directly above this on the 2nd floor is another 10’ door that opens to the scene shop. This allows us to use the same loading dock with a forklift or jib crane to transfer equipment and materials to the shop. There is another 10’ door that opens from the shop onto the stage so that large pieces can be lowered directly onto the upstage area. The support structure for the stage allows for 15,000 lbs/sq foot which gives us the ability to use large equipment on stage such as scissor-lifts, boom-lifts, cars, elephants and just about anything the creative team can come up with.
With such a large stage space, we needed to be able to handle a large overhead lighting and video rig not to mention the weight of the audio system so we designed a rigging grid that used I-beams spaced every 5’ from upstage to downstage separated by the main support beams running front to back every 25’. The engineers put their pencils to it and allowed us a dynamic load limit of 3000 lbs per beam per 25’ bay which supplies us with an extremely agile rigging solution for almost anything we would need to hang.
By opening up our space, it has breathed new life into our creative and design process (not to mention how good it feels to not build set pieces out in the hallway). Also, I think our Facilities team is happier not repairing doorways, sheetrock, carpet and tile since we’re no longer using the front door to load and unload trucks.
SYSTEM CONTROL To tie everything together and provide some type of system control, we went with a full-blown AMX system. From one of several touch-screens, we have the ability to control the power procedures on all major systems as well as control for all pertinent facets of the main video and closed-circuit television system. It also provides on and off continuity to the houselights for either cleaning, rehearsals or events, and gives us instant control of the audio to the lobby and common areas. Going this route for system control gives us a nice advantage as we continue to renovate other parts of the facility which will incorporate more control and flexibility into the system. Oh yeah...it’s also kind of nice to monitor the A/V system components from home.
IN CLOSING As we’ve been using this room for several months now, we haven’t really had to change anything of consequence. This comes as quite a surprise to some of us since you always seem to hear of the myriad of punch-lists, follow-up details, and nightmare stories after a project of this scope. The lack of problems only serves as a perfect example of what can be done with the proper amount of planning married with communication between the install teams, contractors, designers, architects and house staff. Everyone I had the privilege to work with on this remodel had an outstanding work ethic with every company and individual bringing nothing but the best to the table.
From the viewpoint of a church production guy, I am humbled at the opportunity to serve this church and community with such a tremendous auditorium and look forward to what the future holds.