Up from two-hundred congregants fifteen years ago to over 1,600 today, Ephrata Community Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania has enjoyed the blessing of continued growth. Managing that blessing has been challenging, however. It necessitated increasing from one service a weekend to four, which taxed staff and damped the development of a full network of relationships across the community. Hence Ephrata Community Church launched an ambitious capital campaign to design and build a new state-of-the-art sanctuary that would accommodate 1,600 people. Local AVL integration firm Clair Solutions worked with the church from the very inception of the project to design and install a system that would capably meet their needs and provide room to grow while still keeping to a strict budget.
Clair Solutions’ relationship with Ephrata Community Church began with a small video project many years ago. The church wanted a new center projector and screen in their previous sanctuary, and Seth Morth, Clair Solutions engineering manager helped coordinate that purchase. “They appreciated our command of the technology and the way we worked with the people who will operate it, as well as our transparency and forthrightness,” said Morth, who served as the point person on this new sanctuary project.
Because they were involved early, the Clair Solutions team of specialists and interdisciplinarians provided a wealth of insights and suggestions grounded in the practical experience of having completed thousands of successful projects and overcoming innumerable problems, complications and constraints. “We’ve worked with Cornerstone Design, the architectural firm on the project, on other installations so we already had a good working relationship,” explained Bill Simmons, senior lighting designer at Clair Solutions. “We spent a lot of time early on working with the church and the architects to optimize room shape, the technical systems, the acoustics, and so on. Our on-staff acoustician, Justin Graybill, modified wall positions and construction materials to improve the audio intelligibility and impact at its source. When there were options, we took the church’s decision-makers to nearby facilities that we had designed to make abstract-seeming options concrete. There are so many trade-offs in these kinds of decisions, but the church was able to make educated choices.”
From beginning to end, the project took over three years. Everyone involved expended significant effort early on, working out all of the compromises to deliver a state-of-the-art facility while holding to a strict budget. Because the seating capacity of the new sanctuary would be maxed out based on available real estate and zoning laws, the Clair Solutions team also built in future-proof ways for Ephrata Community Church to expand to remote sites with high-definition audio and video feeds. That consideration, which involved some infrastructure and would not be used immediately, further complicated the design and budgeting trade-offs.
The final room shape may be best described as a squat, blunted diamond with an approximately 65-foot stage at the bottom of the diamond. That approach improves sight lines, involvement, and acoustics. The church was adamant about duplicating the flat floor and removable seating of their previous sanctuary to allow for concert-style events. That said, the back does include permanent seating that rises to a second-story entrance/egress. A left-center-right system of rider-friendly Clair Brothers C8 and C12 line array loudspeakers cover the main floor beautifully with six additional Clair Brothers kiT12-i delays to cover the permanent seating on the back wall. Four Clair Brothers CS218 subwoofers round out the low end using a cardioid array that minimizes low-frequency energy on the stage. JBL Control-Series loudspeakers cover all of the public areas outside of the main sanctuary, including a public café, a gathering lobby, and a game room. Lab.gruppen D-Series amplifiers with on-board Lake processing power the system and provide all loudspeaker equalization, protection and delays, and BSS Blu-Series DSP handles system routing and logic.
An Allen & Heath SQ-7 console resides at front-of-house. It is digitally interconnected via Dante with a slightly smaller Allen & Heath SQ-5 console in a purpose-built broadcast booth. The broadcast mix differs from the house mix because some aspects that are abundantly loud in the room (e.g. the snare drum) or unneeded in the room (e.g. the sound of the congregation itself) need to be included in the broadcast mix and connect to the video router via MADI. High-end Genelec reference monitors and Marshall video monitors allow the Ephrata technicians to deliver broadcasts that translate well to other playback systems. Using the Allen & Heath SQ-7 and SQ-5 gives the technicians a common interface and the ability to use an iPad for remote mixing and input monitoring.
The video system uses a Ross Video Ultrix video routing system that allows video from any source to map to any output, discretely or en masse. Moreover, church technicians can save or recall complete working states or change elements on the fly without any physical patch cables. Two Sony HD cameras capture the service, and Clair Solutions built an infrastructure to allow that number to grow as needs and/or budgets grow. Left and right IMAG projectors and screens give congregants an intimate view of the service, and there is infrastructure in place for a future center screen. A confidence monitor/projector at the back of the room and nineteen distributed TVs round things out. All of the video signals travel via SMPTE-hybrid fiber-optic cabling.
Everyone involved came to an agreement early on that LED theatrical lighting fixtures would be appropriate for this space. ETC Sensor IQ relay racks provide the vast majority of power control, although a 24-channel ETC DR-12 dimming rack gives the church the ability to dim additional incandescent fixtures. ETC Series 2 Lustr, Elation Colour 5 Profile, Elation Seven Par 7IP, and Elation Artiste DaVinci light fixtures light the stage, with Chauvet Ovation E-260WW (Warm Whites) reserved for people and areas of the stage that are critical for video capture. An ETC Ion 2k lighting console controls the system. Rigging is a combination of catwalks and dead-hung pipe grids over the stage and forestage. IFR black velour curtains hang behind stage for a nice visual effect and acoustic absorption.
“We excel in exactly this kind of project: a new construction design/build,” Morth said. “We always listen to the client’s goals and can often point out important aspects of those goals that they didn’t think about because they’re not building new stadiums, theaters, clubs, and sanctuaries all the time like we are. We know the questions to ask. Whereas other integrators may be more product-focused, we’re in it for the client. We thrive on creating those environments that resonate with the client and attendees and that we, ourselves, would be happy and proud to work in.”
Mark Ulrich, pastor of worship & pastoral care at Ephrata Community Church added, “Clair Solutions, as with everything they do, has always had a reputation for installing quality sound equipment. But for me, it was the personal nature and approach of Joe Bunting and Seth Morth that sold us on the company, as much as the Clair brand name did. In the end what we got was not only top of the line equipment, we were rewarded with a personal touch that I feel is so important.”