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Teamwork Reigns at Galen Center in L.A.

Design and install a multipurpose audio system for a large, multiuse arena, used for everything from college basketball games to jazz concerts, on a compressed timeline.

CHALLENGE: Design and install a multipurpose audio system for a large, multiuse arena, used for everything from college basketball games to jazz concerts, on a compressed timeline.

SOLUTION: Make a point of forming solid relationships with larger contractors on the project so help is available when it's needed; work closely with product vendors to design and build an audio system with as much amplification and speaker coverage as the budget allows.

The Galen Center's scoreboard speakers almost meant disaster for the massive project.

The Galen Center's scoreboard speakers almost meant disaster for the massive project.

Credit: Courtesy HOFFMAN VIDEO SYSTEMS

When they broke ground on Halloween 2004, the contractors charged with building downtown Los Angeles' Galen Center faced a scary timeline. The 255,000-square-foot, 10,258-seat facility, which would become the long-awaited home for the University of Southern California's basketball and volleyball teams, needed to be finished by the time the fall 2006 men's and women's seasons rolled around.

“The timeline was so compressed that towards the end of the project, we were working 24/7 just to meet the deadline,” says Rob Shepherd, president of Hoffman Video Systems, the Glendale, Calif.–based AV integrator brought into the massive project by Morrow-Meadows, the project's master electrical contractor based in City of Industry, Calif.

Hoffman was charged with overseeing the audio integration inside the main arena, as well as the design and installation of AV systems in a number of adjacent meeting rooms and practice facilities. All told it was a $2 million project, replete with an assortment of challenges you might expect when completing a huge task in a short amount of time.

But Hoffman was no stranger to large projects. The company had recently done a $7 million AV integration at a TV broadcast facility in Seoul, South Korea. The experience taught Shepherd and his company to form solid relationships with the other project contractors before time gets too short.

“Typically, when you're working with a billion-dollar construction company, they really don't care about the audiovisual part. They just want the building to open on time,” Shepherd says. “The challenge is to find a way to work with them as a team member and not as an adversary.”

In this case, any other way of working would have meant failure.

CRANE PAINS

At the Galen Center, building the massive speaker cluster that is mounted on the scoreboard above center court provided perhaps the best opportunity for relationship building. The scoreboard was designed to be effaced on all sides by JBL Precision Directivity PD700 series loudspeakers, but Hoffman officials found out near the end of the project that several crucial steel supports needed to mount the speakers had mistakenly been removed.

Making this oversight even more problematic, the huge crane needed to mount these steel supports, as well as the scoreboard speakers, was scheduled to be hauled out of the nearly completed arena. If it stayed inside any longer, it would be sealed in, because it was far too big to fit through any of the completed exit corridors.

Teamwork prevailed. Ultimately, the general contractor, Costa Mesa, Calif.–based Clark Construction Group, “literally took apart the crane apart to get it out of there,” says Michael Pratt, senior sales and design consultant for Hoffman.

Meanwhile, by the time the scoreboard was finally ready for Hoffman engineers to mount speakers to it, the floor below it was scheduled to be varnished—which couldn't be done until the crane at center court was moved. Again, Hoffman engineers were able to collaborate with other contractors on a condensed timeline that allowed them to quickly mount the supports and speakers and still leave enough time for the court to be varnished.

“These problems were the result of an oversight on the part of the structural engineers,” Pratt explains. “But the solution came from a joint effort [among] ourselves, Clark Construction, Morrow-Meadows, and USC. In construction, you're going to run into these problems, and if you can, you want to avoid a lot of finger-pointing.”

It also required Hoffman engineers to work fast. “If we had missed any deadlines, they wouldn't have been able to open on time because the court wouldn't have had time to cure,” Shepherd says.

SUSPENDED SOUND

While walking a scheduling tightrope, the Hoffman crew also had to negotiate a high bar for acoustical performance. As it happened, the late Lou Galen, the alumnus and banker who donated $50 million to build the $147 million venue that bears his name, was a jazz enthusiast. And for his part, USC athletic director Mike Garrett, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back turned administration official and arena champion, envisioned the Galen Center as home to USC's Thornton Symphony, as well as a place for “huge jazz concerts,” as he calls them.

JBL Precision Directivity PD700 loudspeakers hang from the Galen Center's scoreboard.

JBL Precision Directivity PD700 loudspeakers hang from the Galen Center's scoreboard.

Credit: Courtesy HOFFMAN VIDEO SYSTEMS

That meant that Hoffman, working closely with Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon and Williams, a Dallas-based acoustical consultant, and its principal equipment partner, Northridge, Calif.–based JBL Professional, had to design and install a robust, full-coverage audio system in short order. Because JBL's headquarters were close by, it had consultants on site for much of the project. “The fact that they were local and could roll up their sleeves and have engineers work in our offices helped a lot,” Shepherd says. “In fact, they had sales engineers working with us in the bid process.”

In addition to the scoreboard cluster, the team suspended 26 JBL AM6215/64P loudspeakers from a catwalk, providing an exploded ring delay. It mounted another 51 JBL Control 28T-60 loudspeakers below the tier level seating area. Later this year, Hoffman will install JBL 26DT ceiling speakers throughout the concession areas.

IN THE ZONE

Getting the system equalized proved to be one of the most labor-intensive endeavors. “With all this concrete and steel in the building, it was very challenging,” says Pratt. “It took us about three months to really equalize that system once everything was in place. We had a huge staff walking around every corner of the arena with sound meters in their hands, communicating back and forth with the operator in the control room to find out where the dead areas in the facility were.”

Considering the loudspeakers, scoreboard speakers, paging speakers, and life and safety speakers, there were about 25 separate zones to contend with. The contractors equalized every location a fan might find himself.

“We probably spent a little more in the way of labor resources than we should have,” says Shepherd. “But we achieved the ultimate goal—the customer was satisfied.”

The whole system is powered by Crown I-Tech amplifiers, with Harmon Kardon HiQnet processors controlling amplification throughout the venue. All the equipment is mounted on a large service platform suspended 70 feet above the floor of the arena. “If you were to walk on the catwalk in the arena you would see a bank of racks that's probably rivaled only by the telephone company,” says Pratt, describing the extraordinary collective girth of the Galen Center's audio amplification and processing equipment.

“If it were just a basketball arena, we probably wouldn't have put in as many speakers and as much equipment,” Shepherd says. “But USC wanted a complete venue, and they spent a lot of money. You compare that sound system to other large sound systems like [the nearby] Staples Center and it's so far superior you can't even compare them. They've got a variety of teams in there and a variety of users.The system had to be flexible.”

Soul singer Al Green played a concert at the Galen Center a year ago and used the house audio system—an anomaly for high-end performers, who usually bring their own sound equipment.“Al Green had us crank up the system, and he said, ‘This will do,'” Shepherd says. “We made sure we had more amplification and speaker coverage than we needed and that paid off.”

And the work still wasn't done. In addition to the task of designing and building a flexible arena sound system, Hoffman officials were charged with integrating a robust AV system inside the adjacent Founders Club banquet hall.

Crestron-controlled and featuring PC and satellite display options, the room's video capability is based on four 5,000-lumen Christie DS+5K projectors, while audio support is delivered by 28 JBL 26DT ceiling speakers and two Crown CTs1200 amps.

The plush Founders Club serves the all-purpose assembly needs for Trojan athletic teams and various USC-affiliated academic organizations, offering them a place to conduct everything from booster and fund-raising activities to end-of-season awards presentations. Notably, it is where head gridiron coach Pete Carroll conducts weekly press conferences during football season.

For his part, Shepherd admits that getting all of this work done on a big, high-profile project with a lot of bigger contractors was daunting. But Hoffman benefited from an extraordinary level of cooperation. For example, Morrow-Meadows pulled the 500,000 feet of cable needed to keep the AV project moving along on time.“They had 100 people on site at any give time, so it was very easy for them to do that work,” Shepherd explains. “Without that help, we would have been in tough shape. Again, it was all about teamwork—as a group, whenever a problem came up, everyone got together.”

Daniel Frankel is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. He can be reached at daniel.frankel@variety.com.

 


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