WAYNESBORO, PENNSYLVANIA: Hollowell Brethren in Christ Church is nestled among the farm fields and southern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains near Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. When the skyrocketing cost of construction materials ruined the church's plan to build a new facility to accommodate its burgeoning membership, Hollowell fell back on plan B - convert the gymnasium into a dual-purpose room. Steve Christiano of G.A.D.G.e.T. Media (Maryland) came on board, even though he was dubious about the prospect of building the lowly 'gymnatorium.' But careful planning, abundant acoustical treatment, and first-rate gear, including Danley Sound Labs loudspeakers and Ashly DSP, turned the project into an award-winning renovation that has attracted a lot of favorable attention. Indeed, Hollowell earned the Church Production Magazine and Worship Facilities Magazine's, Solomon Award for Best Church Design Renovation Project for fewer than eight hundred seats.
"To me, the word 'gymnatorium' screams compromise, as in, 'does neither one
well,'" said Christiano, who ended up designing and installing all of the project's sound, lighting, and projection, as well as much of the acoustics. "It makes me nervous." To make matters worse, the senior sound reinforcement "tech" at Hollowell is Paul Beard, maker of the world's finest resonator guitars. "People like Jerry Douglas use Paul's guitars," said Christiano. "He is a great guy with an absolutely amazing ear. The system had to deliver superlative midrange clarity and a transparent, balanced response from top to bottom. Paul would be sure to hear any shortcomings, however minor."
Christiano and acoustician Neil Thompson Shade of akustx developed an aggressive plan to knock the gym's five-second, 500Hz-centered reverb down to an even one second. They built "clouds" of perforated aluminum filled with twelve-inches of unfaced fiberglass, which, in addition to damping reflections, served to protect the lighting and projection equipment from errant basketballs. In addition, Shade had the brilliant idea of repurposing an overhang that ran all the way around the room. The team filled it with four feet of fiberglass and replaced the sheetrock of the soffit with perforated aluminum, effectively building a huge bass trap.
The choice of loudspeakers was an easy one. "I've been doing live sound now for twenty-six years," said Christiano. "Danley Sound Labs builds the very finest sound reinforcement loudspeakers that I have ever heard. I find that I can only describe their performance with words that are normally reserved for high-end home theater systems; typical live sound terminology doesn't apply. The midrange clarity, three-dimensional depth, and separation are fantastic. Unlike every other sound reinforcement loudspeaker out there, the Danleys maintain their sonic character whether they're whispering or screaming." Because of their efficiency, Christiano only needed two full-range cabinets with fill from a center cluster of three Fulcrum eight-inch loudspeakers. On either end of the stage, a flown Danley SH-96 delivers full program content with stunning stereo imaging. Powersoft K3 and K10 amplifiers provide power.
To provide the system with the modest conditioning required of the Danley speakers and, perhaps more importantly, flexibility, Christiano installed a modular Ashly ne24.24M DSP with four inputs and eight outputs. Together with a Crestron touch-panel interface, the Ashly ne24.24M affords Hollowell tremendous flexibility to deploy the technology to match the scale of a particular event. Christiano has an engineering background and can easily program DSPs from a multitude of manufacturers. "The Ashly programming interface is remarkably easy," he said. "It makes my job easier. Together with rock-solid reliability and transparent audio quality, the Ashly ne24.24M is an excellent DSP for Hollowell." Because the Ashly ne24.24M is network ready, Christiano was able to attach the sound system to the church's local wireless network and adjust settings from a netbook.
Consistent with its 'gymnatorium' functionality, Christiano installed a Roland M 400 digital mixer, which is capable of being disconnected and rolled away in a matter of moments. The church also opted for Roland's on-stage monitoring system, affording each band member his or her own mix with integrated ambient mics to facilitate band banter. Using the Crestron touch-panel interface, anyone with the right access code can configure the room for gymnasium, church, or an array of special events at the touch of a button. Importantly, one mode provides a wireless microphone and a DVD/CD feed that work independently of the mobile sound cart. That way, the church can facilitate small events or sporting events without requiring a sound tech.
The lighting and projection systems are also stunning. Elation Lighting supplied twenty-five LED RGB light fixtures, which deliver energy-efficient performance and are cool enough to place next to soft goods, such as curtains. Those, together with Elation Lighting moving fixtures, are controlled from the mobile FOH position via a MA Lighting grandMA2 onPC surface. Eight Eiki 4,000-lumen and two 10,000-lumen projectors accept matrixed output from a CineMassive controller with four inputs and twelve outputs.
"The whole point of doing this was certainly not to have the technology be an end unto itself," said Christiano. "Rather, the church wanted to be able to communicate in the most effective way, and they wanted to be a resource for the community. Perhaps the coolest testament to their content-centered vision is the fact that by going with a 'gymnatorium,' they ensured that money would be left over to fund the programming in that space! I think that other churches can learn from Hollowell's example. Often, church leaders are afraid that the older members will be turned off by technology. At Hollowell, the exact opposite is true. The older members enjoy seeing and hearing clearly, and, perhaps more importantly, they enjoy seeing the younger members of the church fully engaged."
ABOUT ASHLY AUDIO With over a thirty-five year history, Ashly Audio Inc. is recognized as a world leader in designing and manufacturing quality signal processing equipment and power amplification for use in the commercial sound contracting and professional audio markets. www.ashly.com
ABOUT DANLEY SOUND LABS Danley Sound Labs is the exclusive home of Tom Danley, one of the most innovative loudspeaker designers in the industry today and recognized worldwide as a pioneer for "outside the box" thinking in professional audio technology. www.danleysoundlabs.com