Here are a couple of key elements that made the new sanctuary AV remodel and technical upgrade at Auburn Grace Community Church (AGCC, auburngrace.com) in Auburn CA a task above the ordinary. The first was the use of several AV design professionals along with in-house personnel from integrator Clarity AVL (clarityavl.com) of El Dorado CA (see sidebar). Second, the combined AV pros had to meet a range of challenging revisions to be completed within budget.
The project involved enlarging the interior of the building and adding a new section of retractable theater-style seating in the back. In addition, a new atrium area was created in between the two classroom buildings. Clarity upgraded AV, lighting and acoustics with the help of design professionals who had been on their team for many projects. Here, we’ll offer perspectives from the integrator, the architect and the church.
AGCC seats close to 500. The house of worship is partnered with William Jessup University, Rocklin CA. Auburn Grace is a part of the international Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (fgbc.org). There are more than 300 such churches in America with more than 30,000 members, and hundreds of churches internationally with more than 100,000 members outside the US.
Mark Thompson, Primary Owner and system designer at Clarity AVL, met AGCC Associate/Worship Pastor Lorin Miller at another church where he was worship leader and Thompson was running sound several years ago. Miller was aware of Clarity’s work at several other churches and asked the firm to become involved with AGCC’s sanctuary remodel. Thompson and Clarity Project Manager Jeroen Smit, among other integrator staffers, were involved in the project.
“The church had been in that sanctuary for a couple years,” explained Thompson. “They wanted to do a pretty significant remodel. Because of the unique nature of what they do as a church, they didn’t want do traditional pews. Instead, they wanted to remake the sanctuary into portable seating for services. So, they knocked out a lot of the area in back that used to be offices upstairs and an area down below. In that section, they put retractable theater seats.”
As a result of remodeling, when they’re doing a performance or a service, they retract the seats from the back 25% of the room. Then they put a portable audio booth in front of the newly opened space and the big aisle is filled up with regular chairs.
For example, every Wednesday night, they have a community dinner where everyone is invited, with classes afterwards. “The bleachers go back, round tables come out and chairs go around the table,” said Thompson. In summary, they needed the sanctuary to be a convertible space; that was driving the remodel.
Challenges & Revisions
“At the same time, the church also wanted to upgrade its technical systems because they’d been going for several years, just kludging everything together,” said Thompson. “Their previous technical director did a great job of just that: squeezing the last ounce out of every drop. So, they were ready for an upgrade. They also needed to go from a complicated to a more simple, easy-to-use system because of more use of the sanctuary. From us starting the project, to completed drawings and then starting construction was at least an 18-month project.”
The church provided challenges in putting forth a wide range of options and revisions during discussions with the integrator to get the most out of the audio, video and lighting systems. According to Thompson, some of those questions included the following (presented as stream of consciousness): “What if we want to have a presenter in the atrium area? What if that individual wants to include a band? What if we want to do projection? What if we want him on the other end of the atrium? What if we want to have the tech booth down below and the tech booth up above…and have either audio and video in either place?”
Moving on to lighting, here are the questions, with the solution: “What if we want to do an immersive lighting environment, where the projector itself becomes a backdrop element, as much as a content delivery element?” Summing up, Thompson said that the discussion progressed from a fixed screen attached to the back wall, to painting the back wall, to a dropdown screen, to finally building a false wall, way oversized, with lights behind it aiming around the stage area.
Other overall technical challenges included solving the confusion of exactly which conduits were supposed to go where, and exactly what the electrician was supposed to do. “We had multiple changes in our power and conduit drawings because the church wanted to have all multiple locations live [connections],” explained Thompson. “The actual cable pulls were difficult because we were running a lot of wire to multiple locations. So, physically, it was difficult just keeping track of where the network cable had to go from the upstairs tech booth to the amp rack. Getting all those things sorted out was challenging.”
Let’s call this next challenge “An Almost Christmas Nightmare.” Thompson stated, “Auburn Grace has a function called Christmas Desserts where [Pastor Miller] brings in a choir and hires an orchestra of all the top players. They make desserts and roll out the tables. Dessert is served along with the concert. It’s a big tradition that they’ve had for years. They probably do six to eight shows.
“On the day of the last rehearsal, somebody created feedback in the system and actually blew out the high-frequency driver of the main speaker in our Tannoy VQ 100. It’s a phenomenal speaker, but it was dead on Friday.
“So, I called Tannoy in Canada—and again this goes back to relationships: They had no drivers, even in Scotland. However, they found one B stock speaker in the back area that had a driver in it. The Tannoy rep cannibalized that driver, set it up so it would be easy for me to switch out, and FedExed it for next-day delivery on Saturday morning. Thus, I was at the church that morning on a lift replacing the driver in front of the orchestra where they are doing their final rehearsal. It all worked out. I was sweating bullets. I knew that if I goofed up putting in a high-frequency driver, there weren’t any more in the world!”
That’s our entre to audio via the flown VQ 100, which is supported by a mid bass and a pair of subwoofers behind it. The VQ horn is machined out of MDF (medium density fiberboard) because the driver is so powerful and efficient that it just blows apart plastic horns. “The difficult challenge is making sure that the low and mid frequencies are keeping up with the horn,” said Thompson. “So, we have an extra mid bass box, which is very common, and then two subwoofers behind them. And the subwoofers are time aligned with the system. We have some stage lip speakers to just put a little energy into the very front.”
Furthermore, the VQ 100’s conical coverage is quite wide and consistent across the front and back, and side to side. The advantage of the VQ 100 is that it sounds about the same wherever you are in the room, within 3dB to 4dB. “We chose that particular box because the church has events during which everyone is on the floor, and then they have events when the seating comes out. Sound has to get up to the back wall and be articulate, then not be a reverberant mess when the seats are gone.” Rocky Gianetta, Layer 8, initially modeled the room acoustically in EASE.
Speakers are driven by Lab.gruppen amplifiers. The main system audio processing is via MediaMatrix NION, which in turn is controlled by the Crestron system. “We chose the Allen & Heath GLD-80 because of sonics,” said Thompson, “and it’s a very good digital console. It sounds fabulous, and I think it is fairly intuitive for most users. The church definitely wanted to go digital snake, so they bought into the GLD-80 way early.” The Dante Brooklyn card in the console is capable of 64×64 channels.
It’s time to show the systems in action through the technical booths. The crow’s nest is the tech booth that lives above the retractable seating, halfway up the back wall. That’s where the video rack, video equipment and the lightning computer are located. At the controls are Kevin Kurtz, main video person, and Lisa West, lighting designer and operator.
Audio Control Booth
In front of the retractable seating on a table and on an umbilical cable is the audio booth. The GLD-80 console is down there (normally operated by Jeremy Hass), along with the audio rack and an audio systems computer. That position moves back and forth in front of the retractable seating. When the seating is in place, it is probably two-thirds of the way back in the room, in a fairly ideal house mix position. When the seating is retracted, it’s way in the back of the room.
Here’s how this technology provides flexibility of location use within the house of worship. There’s also a wireless Bluetooth keyboard, Bluetooth mouse and a monitor, all connected to the video system. The keyboard and mouse are connected to a Mac Pro that’s used for most of the video. If he wants, Video Tech Kurtz can come downstairs with an iPad running the Crestron control system. He can use the wireless keyboard and mouse to drive his Mac Pro, enabling him to do video operations on the floor. Similarly, the audio tech could take his iPad and run audio from upstairs. In summary, the Crestron DMPS-300-C enables the portable digital transmitter that allows the technicians to move about the building and go from the crow’s nest to the audio booth downstairs and vice versa.
Specifically, the DMPS-300-C has digital ports for input and output. The digital outputs go to the projectors, allowing scaling of the images and control of the displays. The digital inputs are connected to the DM-TX transmitters, which are sized in a two-gang frame. One of them lives in a floor box on the stage, and the other in a portable box that is usually in the audio booth. This allows Kurtz to plug in an additional video source when he is at the audio position. He has the wireless keyboard and mouse, the external monitor for the Mac Pro, the iPad for control and the DM-TX for any additional source that he would want to plug in. He could just as easily take the DM-TX into the atrium, plug it into a box on the column, bring along his iPad to control the Crestron system, and drive it all from there!
Credit goes to independent designer Gene Masserini, who did all the video and control systems for AGCC. “He’s the expert for video, control systems, RF and technical communications,” said Thompson. Furthermore, John Campanella and Jessica Dolias of MDCI did all the programming for the Crestron system, which controls the video and audio systems in simple mode and allows for video I/O all over the facility via network connections.
Thompson noted that Mipro wireless was chosen for several reasons. “It has been my little secret,” he said. “We’ve been using them for a number of years. They have as good or better RF performance of anything I’ve ever tried. I’ve had calls from people who are always having trouble with their wireless getting drop outs. There are certain places that always have a lot of interference. I brought in one of the Mipros and the interference problem was gone. For some reason, I am not sure why, it has stellar RF performance and the mic capsule is really nice.” Wrapping up the audio side of the install, Thompson said, “Listen Systems is another company we’ve worked with for years. Its products offer high-quality sound, are easy to program and have great tech support.”
Video & Lighting
On the video and lighting side, AGCC used its existing two Panasonic projectors, one of which has a short-throw lens to fill up the new large wall. “We did the calculations to make sure we could park it up there behind the loudspeakers to fill that wall that was now three feet closer,” said Thompson, “and we were able to do that. Then we just mounted the other Panasonic in the back at the right location, which also included the Vaddio video camera. It’s a confidence monitor for the performers to see the lyrics. The camera is also presently used for streaming and distributed TV. In fact, there are TVs all over the campus. We’re using the ZeeVee Pro modulator.”
Lightronics Lighting Designer Dennis Degen worked on the lighting system for the project. According to Thompson, “He designed the way the house lights work with the theatrical lights. AGCC Lighting Designer/Operator Lisa West and Associate/Worship Pastor Lorin Miller wanted to use their projection system as much for background like a lighting element as they would for regular video clips/Pro Presenter/announcements that are part of the modern church.
“We ended up eliminating the traditional screen and having their team build a huge false wall in front of the rear wall that they then painted with reflective paint. Then they wanted this new element to blend in as part of the theatrical lighting. So, Clarity Senior Design Engineer Kirt Shearer did some research and discovered that the MegaSystems Enlighten lighting console could output MPEG4 files to Pro Presenter running on the Mac Pro. I believe this is the first use of this capability: The lighting designer is providing the motion background for Pro Presenter, and at the same time color coordinating the theatrical lighting with the video screen. We mounted nine of the Mega-Lite LED bars behind the projection wall shining onto the rear stage walls. It’s really impressive.”
Owner Furnished Lighting
Owner-furnished lighting consists of a great many par cans. Before the remodeling, they had one lighting position with a lot of fixtures hung lower to perceive that they were mounted further back. “We ended up getting rid of their old light bars,” said Thompson, “and we put in new ones with dimmer bars attached. So, we have Lightronics DB612 dimmer bars along with their six dimmer bars. We re-used a lot of their usable existing lighting. The new infrastructure used new powered dimmer bars and the tormentors.”
He noted that they now have four positions in the house with horizontal bars about 14 feet up on the side of the stage. There’s a bar behind the proscenium arch and then two vertical bars closer to the projection screen. In addition, a couple of portable light positions in front of the columns light up the columns.
“There are now lots of lighting positions,” said Thompson, “and we had the budget to add a few new fixtures. That comes to eight new ellipsoidals along with the tons of their par cans. They added a few more LEDs of different sorts, as well. In use, you could walk up to a wall box and hit any of eight presets loaded into the SR516 that would allow house lights and theater lights to be called up for a theatrical scene. The Enlighten console is the main theatrical controller. It has a DMX signal going to the lighting system and an HDMI output going to the video system. And that is how they all talk to each other.”
In conclusion, Thomson explained that Paul Albrecht, the church’s former lead tech, was instrumental in getting multiple types of interconnects in various locations, and lobbied for the multiple control positions, including audio on the floor and video/lights in the crow’s nest, as well as the ability to do anything from either position.
One example of this idea is the area known as the atrium, a covered courtyard just outside the sanctuary. It has interconnect panels on two of the ceiling support columns. These panels have bidirectional audio with the sanctuary system, Allen & Heath D-snake connections, standard network connections and three 20A power circuits. This allows the church to stage concerts at either end of the atrium, with full interconnection with the sanctuary and distributed video feeds to eight future TV locations, which will include streaming video or just sanctuary camera.
“This capability has yet to be exploited,” stated Thompson. “But everything is in place and it’s really easy. For example, they could bring out one AR84 (8-in/4-out) and one of their ME-1 mixers, and plug them into the Allen & Heath network. They could then take up to four feeds from the sanctuary, send back eight feeds and mix the result on a full PA set up at either end of the atrium.”
Successful Working Relationship
Dan Kinnoin, Senior Principal, TPC Architects (tpcarch.com), Roseville CA, was the architect on the church remodel project. It wasn’t until around 2007 that Clarity’s Thompson and Kinnoin got together and decided they’d collaborate. It’s worked out very well for several reasons. “I liked Mark and the way he was a team member/team builder and brought the resources necessary into projects,” said Kinnoin. “The Auburn Grace Church was a major renovation and expansion for a community church in a rural community, and I needed a person who understood the client type very well. So, when I find a team member like Mark, we automatically are going to be more successful. It takes much less communication between architect and consultants, and puts the consultant in a prime point of communication with the client.”
Kinnoin gave an overview of the AGCC project, specifically. “It had what most churches have: poor acoustics, poor sight lines,” he said. “This church has a large, tall volume and lots of parallel walls, like a big rectangle. So, there were naturally some obstacles with acoustics. They were behind the curve in terms of technology. They knew what they wanted to do, but it wasn’t set up for any way to stage various things. They had to somehow pull all this off while they’re still using the building, so we had to phase it in. We also had a major addition on the church.”
Kinnoin laid out a technical system’s master plan, which noted what will happen in various stages. “So, I laid out a strategy for the church, which would generally make sense,” he said. “Mark stepped in and was able to, with his expertise and experience, sort that out. A lot of that is determining what they can afford in phase one. One of the staff at that church is a very dynamic, creative guy, which in some cases makes it a little bit hard, because he wanted everything. That’s where the technical expertise comes in. With a consultant like Mark, he doesn’t get thrown for a loop. He doesn’t tell you it’s impossible, he just kind of walks you through it, and explains ways you could do it, and the pros and the cons.”
Summing up, Kinnoin said, “My view is that the communication process with team members who trust each other is really what has to happen to have a successful project. It starts at the root with the architect and consulting team members. It’s not just the audiovisual, lighting, acoustics and staging. It’s also our electrical and mechanical team members. You get that team working in close harmony, in good synchronization, right from the very beginning.”
Auburn Grace Associate/Worship Pastor Lorin Miller gave us his perspective from the user side. “We took our building down to studs and gutted it,” he said. “We literally just kept the roof and a couple of sidewalls. It really looks like a performing arts center now, with the retractable seating, great lighting setup and the giant screen. It turned out to be a wonderful facility.”
Miller noted that the church is in use all week long and the technical systems are now used by people with a variety of levels of expertise. “The way that we and Clarity worked out the system is that I can go anywhere from a highly sophisticated function using our 48-channel digital Allen & Heath console with full-blown audio mixing and lights, to using my iPad through the Crestron as a simple system where I can have the women’s ministry or a memorial service or a special meeting. I can just hand someone an iPad and he or she can turn on a simple system. They can go to the wall and do preset lighting setups that give them great backgrounds without opening up the whole computerized system. That can all be done simply without using a tech.”
According to Miller, by adding the retractable seating, the sightlines to the stage are fantastic from anywhere in the building. The huge projection wall allows anyone to see the full video display. Before the church built the videowall, the screen was obscured if you were to the far right or far left.
High Tech Look
“Mark Thompson and Clarity installed the video projectors,” said Miller. I designed the new screen. Then I had in-house people build the screen. I ordered some really high tech LED wash lights from Mark that surround the screen. It turned out to be just a beautiful, high tech look. It was done in a simple, clean fashion. We’re very happy with the way the video and the lights work together.
“We spent almost a quarter of our budget on acoustical treatments. That’s something that’s somewhat of a hard sell to people who don’t understand the need. What happened is that we moved into our facility a good three weeks before the acoustical treatments arrived. So, everyone in the church could hear how difficult the room was because it’s all these drywall big boxes that are very functional to build, but are difficult for sound design.”
He added, “People could hear what it was like before and after acoustical treatment. For budgetary reasons, I had an in-house contractor install it, per the plans that were given. That went smoothly. Mark and his team did a fantastic job of putting in the speaker system and acoustical treatment. What I get comments from and what I experienced is the clarity of the voices. It’s very crisp. It’s not muddy. Our old system had a lot of just mush.”