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Sound And Communications Magazine-Small Budget Challange

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By Dawn Allcot

Sea Coast Grace Church achieves full AV complement with room to grow.

Many churches today hire a consultant and/or designer, along with an audio-video  systems integrator, when they’re completing a major remodeling or new construction  project. In some cases, going with a “one-stop shop” for audio, video and lighting  systems design and installation is a cost-effective, not to mention convenient, solution.
However, when the contemporary Christian Sea Coast Grace Church in Cypress CA completed its new sanctuary just prior to Christmas 2010, the church got the  most value for its dollar with separate designers, installers and an acoustician who worked with the consultant/audio designer and the architects early in the game.

Scorecard Required

You may need a scorecard to keep track of the contractors and subcontractors who completed audio, video and lighting work in the 2000-seat sanctuary:

• Vance Breshears, Acoustic Dimensions ( infrastructure, speaker modeling and acoustic design

• Fred Scripture, AV West ( audio installer

• Sam Davisson, subcontractor for AV West: audio and broadcast engineer

• Lew Wilson, VMI ( video designer

• Bob Bolling, RBL Engineering, Stanton CA: video integrator

• Garrett Caine, G-Man Designs ( theatrical lighting design and installation

• Eric Benson, Sea Coast Grace Church Visual Arts Director, oversaw

the video and lighting design (

• Chuck Mitchell, Technology of the Arts (, consulting Audio Director for the church: audio design, and the man who brought it all together.

Eric Benson admitted that many churches would find dealing with so many different individuals and companies a logistical challenge but, with Mitchell’s help, it all went smoothly. “On paper, I’m the coordinator for the project, but I leaned on Chuck heavily,” Benson said. “There’s no way we could have pulled it off without him.”

Mitchell cited the benefits of the unusual arrangement. “Using so many companies saved a lot of money. The church was able to see: This is what we’re paying for equipment and installation.”

Small Budget Challenge

Mitchell also noted that the small budget in relation to the size of the venue was one of the biggest challenges to the project. “Part of the pastor’s vision for the church was to have 2000 seats and only spend $10 million. This is much lower than the typical budget for this size room.”

The rule-of-thumb for many churches in calculating the budget for AV is 10% of the overall construction budget. “Our AV needs had to be determined by the seat count, not the budget,”  Mitchell explained. “The goal was to make everything we needed fit within the AV budget. When we realized 10% was not going to be nearly enough, we cut out the perimeter sound and video designs.”

Nevertheless, with the right choices in NEXO line array speakers, excellent acoustical design and a team of people who knew how to work together, the project came together seamlessly. It even gave Mitchell and the church the opportunity to showcase some unique audio equipment, and save more money, in the form of a “virtual” mixer that provides software-based mixing capabilities for up to 25 mixes over Ethernet.

Rapid Growth

The mixer and other elements of the design and installation leave plenty of room for growth; some of the infrastructure is already in place to accommodate that growth and future technology upgrades. “We have infrastructure, conduit and wire in the conduit,” Mitchell revealed.

Streaming video across the venue and a complete digital signage system are in the plans for the future. “For now, Eric Benson was able to implement some embedded audio into the video feeds for the flat screens in the lobby,” Mitchell said.

In fact, the impetus behind the new sanctuary construction was the church’s rapid growth. The church was filling all three weekend services in the old 1100-seat sanctuary. By continuing to host three services in the new 2000- seat worship space, the church maintains a community feel and leaves room to attract new congregation members.

“One thing we really like about the space is that it gives us a more community feel because of the way the seats are laid out. The center aisle goes around the fan-shaped symmetrical aisle, and when we’re not loaded up in the back where the bleachers are, it feels more community-oriented because we see other people. The goal for growth is good, but we can still be tight knit,” Mitchell said. “Many of the congregants, entering the sanctuary for the first time, thought the auditorium was the same size as the old room, but it holds twice as many seats.

It just feels small because everything is connected.” And the sound and video? With the goal of creating systems “equal to or better than” what the church had previously, that objective was met. “We’re getting the flexibility we need to be creative with the sound, video and lighting,” Benson noted.

Speaking in relation to Sea Coast’s new systems and capabilities, he summarized what should be the objective behind most church technology systems: “It’s not so much taking the equipment and doing something. It’s making sure what comes out of the equipment is top quality.”

Reverberation, Reflection

While the rectangular room, with the stage laid out in the corner and two aisles of fairly symmetrical seats, creates a cozy and intimate layout, the parallel surfaces did not create an acoustician’s dream. “The architectural layout of the space was as challenging an issue as anything else,” said Vance Breshears of Acoustic Dimensions, who did the acoustical modeling and speaker modeling to find the right balance of absorption and reverberation. “If you make the room too dead,” he explained, “you can expose more reflections than there would be if the room is too live. It’s about finding the right balance.” Acoustical treatments on the walls created the right effect  minimizing excessive reverberation and late-arriving reflections created by the parallel walls.

Currently, the church sometimes only fills half the seats for regular services. To account for the acoustical differences in a full house, Breshears specified seating material so the absorption created by an unoccupied seat mimics the absorption of an occupied seat.

An additional challenge was achieving stereo sound in the rectangular space, but a mono system was just not acceptable to anyone working on the project or to the client. “The church uses high-end musicians, performing

at a very high, professional level,” Mitchell offered. “We wanted to make sure this projected the strength of the music because it’s a significant part of what we do here at Sea Coast.”

Breshears’ talents with cross-matrixing, combined with the abilities of the NEXO speaker systems, made stereo sound possible. “NEXO had a lot of product offerings available to help us cover the room from the center cluster while using it to cross matrix the line arrays to the other side of the room,” Mitchell said.

Speaker Placement

The sound system employs a left-center- right setup, with the left and right speakers in a line array configuration. The line arrays consist of GEO S1210 speakers with a GEO S1230 hanging at the bottom of the array.

The center cluster, used for clear spoken word and choir vocals, is composed of four Alpha EF NEXO cabinets. Two delay rings contain 12-inch twoway PS15U speakers and seven PS10U 10-inch delay speakers. Side fills and front fill (PS15U speakers) were added to hit the seats outside the main coverage patterns. Two center front fills, more PS10s, sit at the lip of the stage.

NEXO amplifiers were also used, with NEXO supplying several older models in order to keep costs down for the church. “Mixing old and new models meant we needed some unique grey-box programming, which NEXO did for us in France in coordination with Joe Rimstidt at Yamaha,” Mitchell said. “All the amplifiers had to be loaded with a unique set of presets that encompassed our mix of old and new products.”

Six Danley TH215P-B subs supply the low end.

Sound System Installation

From the perspective of AV West, the sound system installation posed some challenges related to the timeline, budget and speaker placement. To save money on construction, the new venue was built using tilt-wall construction; but this meant the delay-ring speakers had to be installed prior to the walls being raised. The second stage of construction involved installing bleacher seats, which would have made the delay-ring speaker locations difficult, if not impossible, to reach. “Before they even got the stage poured,” Mitchell said, “the team was putting in delay speakers.”

According to AV West Owner Fred Scripture, special attention was paid to following the pitches and yaws specified on the modeling software; sometimes it was a challenge to get the speakers exactly where they needed to be. This was especially true in the case of the delays.

Scripture relayed, “We had to mock up a system when the building was still in very rough stages of construction to ensure all the speakers worked and they were in the correct frequency pattern. Once the bleacher seating areas were poured, there would be no way to change the speaker placement easily.”

Virtual Mixing Capabilities

Designer/Consultant Mitchell specified a DiGiCo SD8 digital mixer for front-of-house, which is used for most Sunday services.

But an innovative, software-based mixing system, the Software Audio Console (SAC) from RMI Labs (, provides mixing capabilities for 16 channels of Aviom monitoring, the broadcast feed and seven stereo channels of in-ear monitoring. “This virtual, SSL-style mixer literally takes the place of 25 mixers,” Mitchell said. “The user interface provides a drop-down menu and a full mixer for each mix.”

Operators can control the Software Audio Console (SAC) virtual mixer from any location over Ethernet. The church audio engineers can feed any of the audio mixes from either the DiGiCo or SAC consoles through the Optocore network and routing preset macros.

“If a special artist comes in with his own audio engineer, because the system is network based, we can put his—or any—in-ear mixes or monitors on either mixer,” Mitchell explained. Both the SAC and the DiGiCo mixers tie into the Optocore network via MADI.

The church also runs RML Labs’ SAW show-control system, which lets the music director control drum loops, extra instrument tracks, video and sometimes lighting, all from the stage. “He talks everyone through it via in-ear monitors as he triggers the songs,” Mitchell said. “It adds so much to what we do.”

An FM-based assistive-listening device with one transmitter plus receivers from Listen Technologies rounds out the audio systems.

Video Design, Installation

Sea Coast Grace Church’s needs for video, as outlined by Video Designer Lew Wilson of Garden Grove CA-based VMI, were very simple: They wanted image magnification and streaming video capabilities, along with projection systems to run a range of special effects and videos. Within these parameters—and using most of the video equipment from the former sanctuary—Wilson and Bob Bolling of RBL Engineering were able to create systems that provided the flexibility that the highly creative technical team at Sea Coast Grace Church required.

“We pride ourselves on creativity here, and that’s where our background is,” Benson said. “We wanted  something that was very flexible so we could come up with new ideas on Friday for the weekend service and implement them immediately.” Wilson said that every service includes a visual element, the “Wow” factor that captivates congregation members. The expanded video and lighting systems give the church creative team the opportunity to raise the bar on this aspect of the service.

Most of the video equipment was purchased two years ago for the previous sanctuary, with the intention of implementing it in the new space, according to Benson. “It gave the technical staff and the congregation members time to get used to it.”

The old sanctuary had two fixed cameras and one roving camera. The new sanctuary uses the same Panasonic AW-HE100 pan/tilt/zoom camera and HPX-500s, adding a third HPX-500 in a fixed position. But the new venue provides a lot more flexibility, with eight different positions for the video team to plug in. “We can rent another camera or two and have a five-or-six camera setup,” Benson offered. “There are a lot more coverage capabilities.” He credits Lew Wilson and VMI for coming up with some unique cabling solutions that simplified cable runs and gave the church more flexibility for capturing and distributing video.

“We were pretty proud of the cabling we did, with boxes to keep it clean,” Wilson said. “Everywhere we ran one cable, we ran two lines, so they have plenty of SDI and Cat5 running anywhere they might need it.”

An Extron transmitter/receiver system was added to the existing equipment, working with the Network SCHD 16×16 HD router and an existing Broadcast Pix Slate switcher to route video to the two Christie projectors and the six plasma monitors in the lobby, as well as to the multi-viewer monitor in the equipment room, a broadcast feed, and to a DV-CAM recorder for recording and distribution to the church’s video venues. The Cypress campus represents the church’s main campus, but a secondary venue in Seal Beach, about 10 miles away, hosts contemporary video services, while a third venue, an older building on the Cypress campus, called the Ranch House, presents a more traditional worship service, where congregation members sing hymns, and the pastor’s message is delivered via video.

Standard Def Is OK

Although streaming to these facilities is in eventual plans, Benson said the standard-definition video broadcast is working for now. “Nobody’s left the service yet, just because they’re not looking at 1080p,” he said, laughing.

In the main Cypress sanctuary, two Da-Lite 135″x240″ Contour screens flank the platform, receiving images from Christie HD10K-M projectors.

These are used for image magnification, song lyrics, testimonies and special video effects to set the mood and support the Message, including the pre-sermon element Benson mentioned earlier.

In the lobby, six plasma screens (four 58-inch monitors and two 46-inch models) receive a feed from the sanctuary cameras so people can watch the services. “It’s a nice space, a big lobby with a caf., and on any given Sunday there are usually about 20 to 30 people watching the services out there. During Christmas, we brought in chairs and used it for overflow,” Benson said.

Two screens flank the doors to the sanctuary. Another resides on one side of the lobby, which is separated into two sides by a bridge. The larger side, representing two-thirds of the room, has two monitors. Another monitor is located in the caf., and another behind the info desk that, eventually, will be connected to a local computer and used to display information. The final monitor was placed against the lobby’s north wall because, Benson said, “It was kind of bare there. Interestingly, that’s where most of the people tend to congregate if they’re in the lobby watching the service.”

The infrastructure across the venue, not to mention the additional seating, gives the church plenty of room to grow, but the creative team is already stretching its creative muscles with the lighting and video systems. Benson thinks of it as a package that enables the church to push the envelope in terms of technology and interactivity.

For instance, for Easter services, the church can project images and color on fog, and the new sanctuary layout provides more flexibility for creative, large-scale set design in conjunction with the technological displays.

Lighting, designed and installed by Garrett Caine with G-Man Designs, working as a subcontractor for AV West, includes a collection of ETC Source 4 ellipsoidals, Source 4 pars, High End Studio Color 575s and Studio Spot 575s, and Martin MAC 700 automated lights, with ETC Sensor SR 48+ dimmer modules, all controlled by an ETC Unison.

A lighting grid and a catwalk above the stage—elements not available in the previous space—provide the capability to move fixtures or bring in additional rental gear to capture the creative team’s vision for any service.

“[The technology] helps make the services more exciting and relevant. We’re in the greater Los Angeles area, and people here are used to being entertained,” Benson said. “We want to give them something that will make them tell their neighbors about what goes on here, but we also want to give them substance.”

In spite of the budget and the timeframe for the A/V/L installation, which required many long days and nights on the part of the installers, the project came together well in time for Christmas services, leaving congregation members and church leadership, alike, pleased with the end result.

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