House Of Worship, Installations

Turning Toward the Light: New AV System Transforms St. Pius X Church

The parish of St. Pius X in Scarsdale NY was established in 1954 but, until recently, the congregation worshipped in a temporary chapel, in a space intended for its school gym. A major renovation, spanning 18 months, was completed recently. It involved reorienting the interior of the church to face east and adding windows to bring in more light. The expanded property provides more space and audiovisual technologies to enhance the worship and meeting experience of parishioners. One significant challenge in the system design and integration was to provide the best-performing and most cost-effective system for the renovated facility while installing an infrastructure that would adapt easily to future requirements.

During Phase 1 of the renovation, the interior of the church was reconfigured 180° and the roof was raised by about four feet. Phase 2 was the expansion of the narthex, or gathering space, and completion of a new entrance. Monte Bros. Sound Systems has served the Church of St. Pius X since 1993, and was brought in at the start of this project to review the AV scope and discuss design concepts. We had worked with Unique Systems ( on similar projects in the past, and suggested that the pastor contact the company for video system design and installation. Together, we worked in collaboration with the general contractor, Executech Construction, and alongside other trades.

“Our parish community has been growing and ministries expanding, so we were looking for ways to address their changing needs,” said Pastor Rev. Francisco Sebastian Bacatan. “Our vision was to provide a welcoming and bright environment for worship that reflects the warmth and vibrancy of the community.”

Toward that goal, the renovations feature a custom-designed floor-to-ceiling stained-glass window behind the altar and several clerestory windows to bring in more light. The choir is now alongside the congregation at the back of the church. These changes and the addition of audiovisual technologies make the entire parish space more contemporary to the way parishioners worship and interact.

The goal was to provide accurate replication of the spoken word, liturgical singing and recorded music in the new acoustical environment of the renovated worship space that would be acceptable to the congregation. The video system had to provide video playback of recorded media from various sources, possess the ability to record live events in the church and support digital signage.

The reconfiguration of the church with an eastern orientation presented several acoustical and lighting challenges. The acoustical footprint of the church had changed and the new interior had multiple hard surfaces. The raised roof made it difficult to install and conceal projection equipment. Both audio and video systems had to be selected carefully and typical integration techniques adjusted to provide good coverage and clarity, yet remain as unobtrusive as possible.

We used Cat5 cabling throughout the space, thus providing infrastructure that will easily accommodate new technologies as they become available.

Previously confined to the church and narthex, audio sources from those two spaces and prerecorded media had to be extended to the hallway and two courtyards. Speakers in the church, chapel, narthex, courtyards, hallway and on the bell tower now provide the desired coverage.

Another Requirement
Another requirement was that the church and narthex audio system be usable and operated independently in each space for separate events, or combined for larger religious or social gatherings. We also had to provide system control locally, as well as centrally from the office.

For video, the abundance of ambient light in the church made it necessary to compensate for brightness with the selection of high-output projectors for playback of recorded media. The client also wanted to record ceremonies and events held in the church, and the capability of streaming these videos over the internet. A digital signage screen in the narthex provides a platform for parish news, a schedule of events and postings of interest.

Several audio components were installed in the church, including Audio-Technica microphones, wireless receivers and an antenna distribution system. The choir area features two Audix MicroBoom microphones. Terra Speakers’ CAMM Series, including two CA-43L line arrays, eight CAMM DT-2T speakers, two DTW-1 recessed wall speakers and 10 DTC-1 recessed ceiling speakers are located in different areas of the church to provide full coverage. A Crest Audio CM-2208 eight-channel amplifier from Peavey, a Biamp VS-8 control panel and two Biamp Nexia CS DSPs complete the church system.

The narthex audio system consists of a CAMM DTC-1 recessed ceiling speaker and four CAMM DTW-1 recessed wall speakers. Outdoor speakers in the narthex include six Terra AC16Ps and four Terra CA.10.2S models. Similar to the church, the amp is a Crest CM-2208. A Biamp Red-1 control panel and a Biamp Nexia SP DSP rounds off the system.

The sound system in the narthex is controlled by one Biamp digital control panel that provides volume control for speakers in the church, narthex, hallway and courtyards, and on the bell tower. Additionally, audio from the wireless microphones used in the church can be extended to all speakers.

Software Programming
Our team of certified technicians programmed the Biamp Nexia software, creating the presets and controls for the end users. We designed an intuitive and easy-to-understand interface. The benefit to the end user is that, every time the sound system is turned on, it always defaults to a “power-up preset” that the owner selects. Nothing can be changed accidentally, and no critical settings are lost.

The challenges to deploying video technology were numerous and compounded because the church wanted to reuse some of the existing technology. This required some engineering magic on the part of Unique Systems. It was important to ensure that all of the newly installed technology remained as unobtrusive as possible throughout the building. One such challenge was to design the new system around an existing Extron 12×8 matrix switch. “I knew when we first began discussions of the video system that designing a modern solution while reusing existing equipment was going to be a challenge,” said Michael Weis, President of Unique Systems.
“But, I was confident that, with a little thought, a lot of hard work and a little luck, we could meet all of St. Piux X’s objectives and deliver the system they wanted.”

The video systems consist of a camera system, recording system, projection system and digital signage. Two production-quality Vaddio 1080p PTZ cameras were installed; one at the rear center of church, and the other at the front right. Both cameras can be operated and monitored from the Vaddio HD multi-camera control system located in the sacristy.

Two Raxxess sliding shelf racks (one in the sacristy closet and the other in the narthex), house several AV components, including two Delvcam seven-inch dual preview monitors and a Philips BD player.

The recording system includes an Apple MacBook Pro with Apple Final Cut Pro X for editing, an Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter with a six-foot Thunderbolt cable, a Blackmagic Design Intensity Extreme Capture Device with Blackmagic Media Express capture software and a Western Digital 3TB USB 3.0 external archival drive.

Two 120-inch motorized Draper Targa projection screens are in the front of the church and can be lowered for presentations. Two Epson PowerLite Pro Z8350 projectors are suspended from the ceiling to deliver a bright 8500 lumen picture to each screen.

Many types of current generation media can be presented, including PowerPoint, readings, hymnals, music, pictures, movies and various internet websites, as well as more traditional content, such as DVDs. Of course, the church cameras can be projected, as well. Hidden away in numerous locations are Extron twisted pair inputs for both analog audio and computer VGA.

“We encountered significant issues with projector placement,” reported Weis. “The stained glass behind the altar lets in an enormous amount of light at certain times of day. To address the issue, we selected projectors that could deliver almost three times the lumens that typically would be required in the altar area. We also installed them more off center than we would have liked, to keep them as hidden as possible while not straying outside of the recommended throw distance for the projectors,” he noted.

A Samsung 75-inch commercial direct LED-lit LCD TV in the narthex is used to display digital signage content developed by the church to show upcoming events and other parish notices. “The device can accept content directly from computers plugged into various locations, and also from church cameras used for recording ceremonies and services,” said Weis. The Samsung flatpanel on a Chief flat wall mount conceals an FDS mediaBOX-300 player that is not more than two feet behind the display. An Extron twisted pair receiver on the main rack allows the signage screen to receive signals from other content sources in the system.

The CMS is’s Signage Studio Pro installable client package. “The players can be fully managed by utilizing only the web-based content management software; however, embedding locally stored resources, such as videos and photos, is quite a bit more intuitive with the installed client,” noted Weis. “We used the factory-installed player on the mediaBox-300, but all content editing happens from other workstations. The individual who creates the content also writes custom content in Adobe Flash for embedding. Thus, we installed Signage Studio Pro on the MacBook Pro we provided with the job, as well as installing it on other client computers at the site,” he explained.

We don’t usually have situations that we did not anticipate or expect to be problematic. However, in Phase 2 of this installation, I became more sensitive to spending enough time with the owner, to make sure that I totally understood what his expectations and visions of the project would encompass.

Occasionally, a project is a little more out of the box than the usual formats in houses of worship with standard narthex configuration and logistics. Traditionally, the narthex was the “vestibule” or gathering space. At St. Pius X, it includes a small chapel for parts of liturgical services during certain Holy Day services, as well as to accommodate a larger community for other religious services.

After multiple meetings with Fr. Bacatan, I realized that his vision of the renovated narthex was an expanded view of its purpose and use. The reconstructed narthex at St. Pius X Church would serve more as a gathering space for the community for both religious and social events, rather than strictly for religious services. It includes a kitchenette closet for Sunday hospitality, such as serving cookies, doughnuts and juices to families with children after Mass and other special occasions. The AV technology extends the use of the space for screening movies, concerts and other events.

The general contractor and AV/IT teams should make sure that they fully understand the expectations of the client, as well as the various end-user applications. And, above all “assume nothing,” which has been a Monte Bros. premise for more than 40 years!

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