Updated: May 14, 2020
Chapin Hall is a historic concert hall on the campus of Williams College in picturesque Williamstown MA. Built in the 1920s and widely recognized for its resonant acoustics and period architecture, the hall is used as a performance space for Williams’ Music Department concerts and recitals, as well as concert events of the popular Berkshire Symphony. In addition, the hall has traditionally hosted important landmark academic ceremonies, including the college’s Baccalaureate and Convocation programs and public events. Inevitably, the beautiful venue, often described as the “gem” of the campus, had begun to show its age, and a multiyear project was launched to address the issues and rejuvenate the 900-seat hall. According to Williams College’s Senior Project Manager, Bruce Decoteau, “The overarching goal was to bring the hall into compliance with current building codes and to introduce new technology to satisfy the needs of all the different groups who use the space while preserving the historic hall’s classic architecture and grandeur.”
Need For New Technology
More than a restoration, the project would equip Chapin Hall, the largest venue on campus (outside of sports facilities), to better serve current users, as well as provide new technology to expand its uses. As an example, with no permanent projection system, every presentation that required projection required an outside contractor, the rigging of a temporary projector and setting up a portable screen. A new projection system would facilitate the speaker or panel conducting a lecture or event’s ability to project images, supporting documents or film. A redesigned audio system and improved acoustics would increase the hall’s value for solo artists and performing ensembles, as well as making it an attractive venue for new events. With 30 years of experience managing building projects for Williams College, Decoteau’s project management skills played a central role in the hall’s redesign. To reach consensus on what improvements would best serve the college, a design charrette was conducted where all the stakeholders gathered on the stage to exchange thoughts about what they thought Chapin Hall should be and how it could be improved. Stakeholders included music department leaders, college event planners, Ann Beha Architects of Boston MA, construction managers and expert AV consultants. The team exchanged ideas, taking measurements and notes that would ultimately develop into a comprehensive project plan. To implement the new building designs, the team organized the project into three phases using a CM at Risk (CMAR) model. “The CM schedules and bids all the work to subcontractors,” noted Decoteau. Two CM firms, Consigli Construction of Milford MA and Shawmut Design and Construction of West Springfield MA, provided the construction and engineering expertise to complete the phases of this challenging project.
Early stages of the project respectfully reconfigured portions of the interior of the concert hall to improve acoustic isolation and clarity, add nearly silent air conditioning, improve seating and sightlines, and provide new audio and video technology. Several teams of construction and technology experts had to be engaged and challenged by Consigli, and then Shawmut, to transform the space into a modern and versatile performance venue while retaining the charm and natural acoustic properties that have made the hall a popular performance venue. In addition to physical improvements to the hall, early phases of the project changed the slope of the main floor to improve seating and create space for a collapsible stage extension. “Because the stage extension displaces about 125 seats when it is deployed,” said Decoteau, “the design had to consider how the displaced seats could be reinstalled for special events when full seating capacity is required.” Through careful planning, the use of modular seating sections and rearrangement of aisles, the total seating capacity of the hall has remained essentially unchanged. The new seating design also brings the venue into compliance with today’s codes and standards. A final phase of the project will add an acoustic reflector array over the stage extension to improve hearing conditions for performers and counter the effects of the hall’s vaulted ceiling. The installation of the reflector array is planned for late summer 2017.
Quality Audio Design
Shawmut Design and Construction was responsible for bidding and coordinating the installation of the audio/visual package for the historic hall. Kirkegaard Associates (www.kirkegaard.com), an audio/ video and acoustics consulting firm based in Chicago IL, designed the systems, and MFI Pro (www.mfipro. com) of Hooksett NH completed the team as the integrator/installer on the project. Kirkegaard’s Principal AV Consultant Jonathan Darling appreciated the challenges associated with improving a room for both acoustic performance and productions with audio reinforcement. “Kirkegaard Associates was the consultant for both the audio and acoustic design of the renovation,” he said. “However, the acoustic program was primarily to improve the performance of the space for acoustic music, which does not necessarily help the conditions for audio.” From his initial survey, Darling was particularly concerned about the reverberance of a space with so much reflected energy off the long side walls. “The hall has a rather long throw to the back and is relatively narrow,” he observed. In order to best manage the throw distance, considering the reverberance and geometry, Darling conducted a loudspeaker demonstration featuring two of the only line array systems he felt provided sufficient horizontal control. Both manufacturers’ products performed well, but the NEXO system provided great sound with the best economic advantages for the school.
Darling worked closely with NEXO to design a new audio system for the space using EASE (Enhanced Acoustic Simulator for Engineers) software and NS-1 system configuration software. According to Darling, “The flexibility of the Geo S12 system with 10° and 30° vertical dispersion loudspeakers, as well as 80° and 120° horizontal coverage, provides a flexible design palette for determining the best system.” MFI Vice President Rick Elliott and his installation team implemented Darling’s audio design, making every effort to be as discreet as possible with all AV equipment. This included using more floor boxes instead of wall panels than would be typical, and trying to keep the loudspeaker design as visually unobtrusive as possible. Elliott hung two arrays of four NEXO GeoS1210- PW main line array loudspeakers to cover mid and high frequencies in a left-right stereo configuration, each with a NEXO GeoS1230-PW configured for downfill. “The main arrays are large,” noted Darling, “but they hang near the architecture quite beautifully.” In addition, Darling’s plan called for RCF SUB 8004-A-S subwoofers to be placed beneath the arrays, where they are mostly concealed by the balcony railings. Additional loudspeakers to complete audio coverage for the room include four NEXO M620 front-fill speakers to support the expanded seating area when the stage extension is not in use, two NEXO PS8U side-fill speakers, two NEXO PS8UPW balcony-fill speakers and two Innovox MLA-16 slim micro line array speakers, each with 16 one-inch full-range inverted dome drivers as onstage fills. Two ElectroVoice TX1152FM 15-inch speakers and four Electro-Voice TX1122FM 12-inch speakers are available as relocatable stage monitors, along with two compact Galaxy HS7 units that can be deployed as stand-mounted monitors. NEXO NXAMP4x4 and NXAMP4x1 amplifiers equipped with NXDT104 Dante cards provide power for the mains, front fill, side fill and balcony fill, with a Lab. gruppen E4:2 amplifier dedicated for backstage and onstage fill speakers, and four Lab.gruppen E12:2 2-channel amplifiers reserved for monitors. BSS BLU100 and BLU806 Soundweb London DSPs equipped with analog input and output cards are used for processing audio, and amplifiers are wired to a processing rack in a redundant fashion with both Dante and XLR connections. BLU-Link is used to route the signals of each unit and provide additional signal processing power. A Denon DN-500R solid-state SD/USB recorder/player was configured, along with a Focusrite ISA-2 mic preamp for recording, but Dante signals are also available to William College’s remote recording suite.
Controlling The Audio
To control audio, a Yamaha QL5 64-channel digital mixer was specified. “The smaller QL1 console was considered,” recalls Elliott, “but after reviewing the school’s needs it was decided that the additional channels would more easily support special events and would result in much less reconfiguration.” The console is fed by a 16-channel Yamaha RIO1608-D I/O expansion module located in the basement, and an additional 32-channel RIO3224-D I/O expansion module is installed in a rolling equipment rack for onstage use. “The RIO3224 was added once the system was installed,” said Elliott. “For sound engineers who have to mic ensembles, the additional inputs provided by the RIO3224 simplify setup and minimize reconfiguration.” Throughout the project, significant attention was paid to flexibility for the new AV infrastructure installed throughout the hall. This included two Cisco SG300-10 10-port managed switches for Dante along with about 40,000 feet of cabling that includes Cat5/6, new runs of 10/2 speaker wire (main arrays), 12/2 speaker wire (fill and monitors) and all AES3-rated mic/line cabling. The design includes extensive patch connections organized and implemented by Elliott and his team using two Audio Access WEP-HN-C-32-N-2-D line-level audio patchbays and two Bittree B96DC-FNSST/ E3 M2OU12B mic-level patchbays. Data patching includes 16 locations throughout the hall, where Dante and video protocols are available. For optimal microphone positioning, six Servoreeler Systems SRL-40 microphone suspension units were installed, with two at the proscenium and four located at the lip of the stage. The units are supported by a Servoreeler Systems SRC-12, three-section controller and power supply, mounting hardware, and a Servoreeler Systems MPS- 2 monofilament positioning servo unit. Microphone choices for the installation include four Audio-Technica U853RW general-purpose mics over the stage, four Crown PCC-160 boundary microphones and a matched pair of DPA ST2006C compact stereo omni microphones, along with a pair of Shure KSM137/SL stereo cardioid condenser microphones. Shure SM57 and SM58s are used onstage along with Sennheiser MD421 II cardioid dynamic microphones and Whirlwind, Radial and Pro Co Sound direct boxes. Wireless microphone equipment includes Countryman B6W5FF05BSL wireless black and beige lavalier mics, Countryman E6OW5L2SL miniature headset mics, Shure ULXD1 wireless mic bodypack transmitters, and Shure ULXD2 transmitters for both B58 wireless mics and SM87 wireless condenser mics. A Shure ULXD4Q 4-channel wireless system receiver is used to receive wireless signals from the stage.
Both the design and deployment of a state-of-the-art projection system, including projector placement in a large plenum space above the rear balcony of the 100-year-old hall, represented significant challenges for the team. The Christie Boxer 2K20 HD DLP 20,000 lumen video projector’s location in a plenum area made heat dissipation less of a concern, but downward angle from the projector location required careful planning. “We were forced to use a combination of lens shift and physically tilting the projector a few degrees to handle the vertical throw angle,” noted Darling. To navigate the large projector into the prescribed location in the plenum, Elliott and his team created a cardboard model of the 160-pound projector and 100-pound rigging frame that would have to travel up ship’s ladders, through man doors, across a catwalk where installers could not completely stand upright and, ultimately, through an opening made in an existing wall of the old structure. Even with careful planning, it took a team of four installers the better part of a day to install the Christie video projector outfitted with a 3.89-5.43:1 HB zoom lens into its rigging frame in the plenum. Design considerations for Darling included the projector’s great image quality, but also its ability to be upgraded in light output and to 4K resolution that would preserve the school’s initial projector investment. Darling’s video design specified the use of a Draper custom Paragon/Series V motorized front-projection screen with a low-voltage Draper Controller and Draper’s MS1000X high-definition 144″x256″ screen surface. The choice of the screen surface was due to the number and locations of windows in the hall. “Because there is minimal ambient light control in Chapin Hall,” said Darling, “we were concerned about having a washed-out image.” To address the issue, Darling specified a projection screen that reduces the effect of off-axis ambient light. The combination of a high-tech screen and the ability to upgrade the projector’s output represented a significant insurance policy for the school that Darling built into the design. An Extron DTP CrossPoint 84 8×4 scaling presentation matrix switcher equipped with DTP (digital twisted pair) was installed to process video signals along with an Extron HDMI 4K receiver. Five Extron DTP T DWP 4K 232 D 2-input DTP transmitters and an Extron DTP T HD2 4K 230 DTP transmitter for HDMI w/input loop-through were placed at key locations in the hall, along with four Extron HDMI 4K 230 Rx DTP receivers. An Extron FOXBOX fiberoptic multimode receiver and transmitter converts and hauls HDMI over fiber up to the projector. The video design also called for two Marshall MLYNX-702 seven-inch dual rackmount video monitors, a rackmounted Oppo BDP-105/D 3D Blu-ray player and a Panasonic AW-UE70 integrated 4K PTZ camera capable of 4K and digital streaming. AJA Hi5-Plus mini-converters convert SDI signals to HDMI. Elliott had the Extron programming expertise on his team to do much of the video system programming ahead of the installation. “Our programmer provided the options that the college indicated they needed,” he recalled. “Then, after the users got some experience with the system, we were able to incorporate their suggestions that make presentations easier.” Central to the hall’s new AV control ability is a Cisco SG300-28PP 20-port managed switch that provides connectivity for an Extron IPCP Pro 350 IP Link control processor, the PTZ camera, and supports the use of Extron’s TLP Pro 720T seven-inch tabletop touchpanel and Extron TLP Pro 720M seven-inch wall-mount touchpanel. These capacitive touchscreen units support color, a 1024×600 resolution and convenient Power over Ethernet (PoE) that provides power and communication over a single Ethernet cable. Connection points are provided for use on stage and at FOH. Two Extron IPL Pro CR88 IP Link Pro processor 8-relay interfaces control the Servoreelers, using a design-build conversion box to connect them to the 50-pin control input on the Servoreeler Systems SRC-12.
Satisfied With Rejuvenated Space
Since the installation, Decoteau reports that the stakeholders at Williams College are all very satisfied with the rejuvenated space and the AV technology that historic Chapin Hall can now offer. “I know that the music department absolutely loves the improvements, including the new stage extension,” he said. “In addition, transforming the hall from performance mode to full seating capacity has become much more efficient. For both performances and presenters, the new AV system is proving to be highly useful and successful.” The project has been a success, but no one on the team will minimize the complications encountered in retrofitting a hall of this age. “What contributed to the project’s success,” recalled Darling, “was an extremely conscientious and dedicated design and construction team. The architect, general contractor, electrical contractor and AV integrator were all committed to quality. The project profited from the open and frank discussions and decision making with the college’s representatives. This was really a dream project in the professionalism of all involved and the result shows how much care was put into it.”