Saint Louis University’s (SLU) newly opened Center for Global Citizenship is both a practical initiative to bring several campus services under a single roof, and a strongly symbolic move that represents the school’s commitment to its highly internationally diverse student body, drawn from 101 nations around the world. And like the United Nations that it evokes, it needs a substantial amount of AV technology to keep everyone on the same page.
The Center for Global Citizenship is built into the former West Pine Gym on the SLU Frost campus, where it brings together the Office of International Services, the International Studies Program and the English as a Second Language Program, which had all been academic and support units previously separated on the Frost Campus. The university’s former basketball and volleyball arena was converted into two distinct spaces. An open student-gathering atrium is on the opposite of a new wall that forms the backstop of the meeting auditorium, which seats 1,000 in a combination of tables and installed bleacher-type seating that was part of the original gym. A substantial amount of architectural renovation was performed on the space, including the removal of boards that had covered up windows high up around the rear walls of the former arena that had been in place since the early 1900s. However, as natural light flooded the room, it also created other kinds of ambient concerns that would impact the center’s audio and video requirements.
Overcoming Ambience Issues
For starters, the infusion of natural light quickly settled a debate between using a video wall versus a projection system. “That much ambient light really ruled out using projection,” says Craig Williams, manager of the university’s Multimedia Services department. Working with locally based AV systems integrator TSI, which was also working on new classrooms for the school, a large video wall, made up of 25 NEC 55-inch LCD displays, configured into a 5 X 5-square with a 7-foot diagonal, was installed on the main wall, reportedly the largest of that type in the Midwest. The feeds for the video use a combination of remotely controlled PTZ cameras located in the room as well as audio and video feeds from outside the building, essentially turning the Center into a huge video teleconferencing facility, using the Polycom VTC codec. “We can connect the center to the outside world and bring it in here, just as what’s taking place inside the room can be seen by others on their screens anywhere in the world,” says Williams.
Sound would have its own ambience issues, also as a result of the windows being revealed, as well as the generally hard-surfaced nature of the materials used in the gym, including the restored hardwood floor. That called for a line array with a high degree of steerability.
TSI recommended a Bosch LA3-VARI-BH+E steerable line columnar array system, positioned on either side of the videowall, bolstered by three clusters of six Bose Professional RoomMatch Loudspeakers and two RMS215 subwoofers, powered by three Bose PM8500N PowerMatch PM8500N power amplifiers. The room’s potential reflective response was complex; TSI used Bose’s modeling software to predict reflections and coverage patterns, and to provide a rendering of what the PA system would look like in place. The university had also mandated that the space adhere as much as possible to its original architectural esthetic, which limited the amount of acoustical treatment materials that could be used on the walls and floor. Thus, in addition to some curtains along the rear walls, a digital Biamp AudiaFlex 20 X 4 DSP system, which used EQ to electronically smooth out the room’s frequency response curve.
Documentation like the acoustical modeling renderings were important in convincing the university’s administration that each of the key AV decisions were the right ones, thus validating their costs. Of the approximately $10 million total cost of the renovation of the Center for Global Citizenship over the nearly one-year time frame it took to accomplish, Williams estimates that the AV systems costs $470,000. “We were careful and precise in approaching the cost issues,” he says. “We always did a cost-of-ownership analysis of all of the major systems so that we had numbers to back up our technical decisions. For instance, we were able to show that we would save $75,000 over seven years by using a video wall instead of a projector. We compared the cost of replacing a projector bulb with [the cost of replacing] one of the video screens, and pointed out the fact one failed display in the video wall didn’t render the entire wall inoperative, and that it could be replaced quickly, whereas a failed bulb in a projector could put the entire projection system out of service for several days.”
Looking back, Williams, whose five-person staff oversees the AV technology in 311 classrooms and lecture halls on Saint Louis University’s campus, says there were some very fundamental questions that had to be resolved before AV systems decisions could even be made. The single biggest of these was how the benefits of natural light impacted the decision-making process for audio and video. Another was how they were also affected by the architectural changes the building would undergo.
“There was a point where they were considering a movable wall for the rear wall of the auditorium, with a retractable projection screen in front of it,” Williams recalls. “When we explained the thinking behind the video wall versus a projector, it became clear that we needed a solid wall to support the video wall. What you realize is that everything you do affects everything else.”