The project’s scope

I want to write a little about the scope of this renovation project. You have read that we are replacing the seats, carpeting and dome as well as adding a new sound system. These, however, are the obvious things. Once you dig in, it becomes clear that much more is involved. While you are doing major work is really the best time to dig in and do a project right.

Suppose you are replacing the roof of your house. Once you have the shingles off, you find that the plywood it was nailed to is rotten in many places. And that insulation in the attic, well it’s not looking too good either. And what about that attic air conditioning unit? The one that’s been making a lot of noise for years? It has to come out …. You guessed it… through the roof. After all, the roof is off now. So go ahead, hire a crane!

It’s like that with the Space Theater. It’s getting to be an older facility and while we do keep up with the bigger things, time is no one’s friend.

Our sound insulation is one item that has deteriorated through the years. Many visitors don’t know that our IMAX / Planetarium dome is inside a larger room. That room is 10 to 12 feet bigger on each of its 8 sides than the dome, and is made of concrete blocks. Concrete has poor acoustic properties, so it was covered with 1 inch of fiberglass. Without that insulation, there would be a lot of echoing sound, like a train station, and that makes it hard to hear clearly. Sound from one speaker would bounce off the walls, combine with other sounds, and then you would have trouble hearing the narration and the music clearly.

Time has a way of breaking things down, and our sound insulation is crumbling in many places, especially where it is brushed against by people who have to go back there. So we are replacing a lot of the insulation.

Looking up at an empty speaker cabinet

Looking up at an unused speaker cabinet behind the dome.

New insulation will replace damaged fiberglass

New insulation will replace damaged fiberglass

We also are putting a sturdy “sound board” at the base of the outer walls after replacing much of the sound proofing. This will allow us to access the area behind the dome without damaging the fragile insulation.

The air conditioning ducts are all wrapped with similar material. That keeps the ducts from ringing like a bell during the loud parts of IMAX films.  Those ducts have to be cleaned out after 35 years. Even though we have always double filtered the air coming in, dust has collected inside the ducts, and they have to be pried open, vacuumed out, and sealed again. Then we have to wrap them up in new insulation. And since the new sound system is going to be more powerful than the old one, they better be wrapped pretty well or they will make noise when we hit them with 16,000 watts of audio power.

Lighting is another thing that’s not really been mentioned much. It’s essential, but does not have a lot of ‘wow” factor. But we plan on changing that!

Our existing lights are basically big light bulbs. They are big, hot, energy sucking dinosaurs that used a total of 16,000 watts. To color them we put sheets of colored plastic in front of the bulb. But the bulbs are expensive, and the plastic (called a gel) fades after a while.

The new lights are totally different; Low energy, cool running, long lived Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs.

Energy saving color changing fixture with 16.7 million colors.

Energy saving color changing fixture with 16.7 million colors.

LED fixtures from Phillips

A great feature, from my perspective, is that these LEDs are capable of over 16.7 million colors. Each of the new 24 light fixtures will be individually controllable, so I could create a wall of blue lights, with a single yellow light. That yellow light could move back and forth across the blue lights like a wave. All the lights could do the same, or follow different sequences. Imagine a 2 minute fade to black through all the colors of the rainbow. The possibilities for creativity are exciting. These new lights and their low energy usage will use only 15% of the energy the old lights used, and go a long way toward making the building greener.

A Sky-Skan, Inc control system we installed in 2007 can fade the new light up or down and change the colors over a period of seconds or minutes.

Sky-Skan, Inc

I was honored to be able to design the new console, and hope it lasts as long as its predecessor. Dave McGrew and Joe Clifford did a great job building it, and the whole team pitched in and gave the Space Theater a “brain transplant”.

After 34 years, we needed a new control console

After 34 years, we needed a new control console

Those old glass railings in the theater have suffered through the years, and now show chips and defects. They are going to be replaced and recycled, and we hope to make them clearer and easier to maintain.

In fact, the entire project is dedicated to stay green; all the lights, carpet, seats and metal will be either recycled or donated to local non-profits. Equipment we are going to replace them with uses less power or is made from recycled materials. We recently upgraded the air conditioning plant and covered the roof with solar panels. This is part of our LEED – EB certification. The Engineering Manager Dave McGrew is doing an incredible job documenting a million facts about our building to achieve this special certification and making sure that we are as green as possible.

Solar Cells on our roof.

Solar Cells on our roof.

Speaker Mounting is a not a real interesting part of the project, unless you are the one going up a 30 foot ladder to replace a speaker!

When I started here years ago we used a “bosons chair” (basically a swing on a rope) and actually lowered someone down to the speakers from the cat walk. Now THAT was scary. The term came from the navy bosons that used this system to transfer personnel from one ship to another without a boat while under way in mid ocean!
We then switched to a ladder, and lowered the blown speaker down on a rope, and used the same rope to bring up its replacement. Finally we got an electric lift, but the air ducts were in the way for several of the speakers so we had to still use the ladder for some of them. Another problem was that the 35 year old speaker cabinets were made of particle board and were literally crumbling where the screws went in.

From the original blue prints

From the original blue prints

Something else to consider for the renovation is that IMAX now suggests that speakers be located very close to the dome, but ours were originally 20 feet away, on the buildings outer wall. Sound was diffused into the area behind the dome, instead of being directed into the theater. The horizontal locations preferred for speakers have changed also; the rear speakers are farther apart and the front are closer together.

This is a BIG dome!

This is a BIG dome!

We were looking at a system of electric hoists, like most modern venues use, but Spitz, Inc. suggested that we use their speaker trolley system. The idea is to mount the new QSC speakers on platforms that move up rails mounted directly on the dome. Once in place, the speakers will be directly on the outside of the dome. The tricky part is making sure that they aim exactly where you want them to aim. Of course, after all this work we want to show them off too, so LEDs will be mounted on them for the “Behind the Dome” show.

Coming up on my next post – the new dome!

No more geodesic dome

No more geodesic dome

John Young

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for this wonderful in-depth blog about the renovation. I would have never thought of all these details. You made it very interesting *and* exciting!

  2. Awesome!! Sounds like a daunting but very exciting project to rebuild the theater. I was wondering when that was going to happen ( ; I am sure getting funding is a difficult task so great job!

  3. Those old blueprints look like they may have been done by Leonard DaVinci!

    As of 9/10, it looks like things are moving quickly and are very well organized. Good job by all. Although it is strange to see the theater changed so much. It’s like a good friend who is going through many changes. I’m anxious to see the end-result!

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