Published on December 15th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine0
In discussing the design intent for the long-awaited new $80 million Hale Centre Theatre (dubbed Mountain America Performing Arts Center) in Sandy, architect Lyle Beecher said one of his firm’s earliest objectives was to create a building that would be “a cultural lantern to the community”, one where people from all walks of life can come together to be entertained and inspired.
“We achieved this through the large expanse of glass in the lobby, which interacts with a beautiful city plaza that entails some of the largest fountains in the valley,” said Beecher, Principal of Salt Lakebased Beecher Walker Architects (BWA). “At night the theatre has a special glow – it provides light to the community.”
Indeed, the 122,300 SF theater is one of the most heralded and highly-anticipated buildings to be built in the heart of Sandy City, Utah’s sixth-largest city and one aiming for ‘destination city’ status given the influx of new construction the past decade (light rail infrastructure, scores of high-end commercial office, multi-family projects, 10600 South ‘underpass’, improved roads, etc.). The entire project hinged on the City’s ability to finance more than half the $80 million project cost with a $42.7 million bond – which Hale Centre Theatre (HCT) will pay back over the next 27 years as part of a lease agreement – along with the ability of HCT co-founders/executives Mark and Sally Dietlein to spearhead efforts to raise another $38 million in donations.
The nearly seven-year-long planning, design and construction process taxed the patience of team members across the board and required countless design reviews on everything from construct-ability issues to the highly complex, one-of-a-kind nature of the mechanical stage system, of which there is nothing exactly like it in the world.
“It is just so unique to design a theater-in-the-round,” said Beecher. “The uniqueness of different aspects just goes on and on. The fly loft, for instance, is directly over the audience and we saw that as an opportunity to take this mass (fly loft) and design it in such a way that it helped the building with its total mass, and not just placed at the back of the building, but on the body of the building. We didn’t want it to feel like the typical blank box fly loft – it’s part of the façade of the building.”
“Truly the building has exceeded all expectations,” said Mark Dietlein, President/CEO and grandson to Nathan and Ruth Hale, who along with their daughter Sally Hale founded HCT in an old lingerie factory in South Salt Lake. “It’s been a really, really interesting ride for me as a non-construction person to get some scope of the amount of work this whole thing has required. Especially in light of the fact that we didn’t have time to go through a normal design process prior to groundbreaking. It was amazing to see how Beecher Walker Architects could be just a step ahead of the construction process – we had a short window so it didn’t interrupt our business flow.”
He was referring to the construction delivery method, which was described as a “Design-Assist/Fast-Track” process by Beecher and Jared Adamson, Sr. Project Manager for Layton Construction of Sandy. Adamson said Layton was involved in the project dating back to spring 2011 working on conceptual estimates, budgets, different construction options for different designs, etc. Once the bond became available Adamson said, “we basically just had a floor plan because design hadn’t been finalized. We knew we had to do different bid packages…Lyle and his team were working ahead of construction and we were following along, rather than taking the more traditional way of designing it all then starting construction. It sped up the ability to start construction.”
Beecher and his team worked meticulously with the Dietlein family and HCT’s entire cast to come up with a design that met the needs of both form and function. The fact that a theater consultant wasn’t brought in speaks volumes about the level of trust and collaboration between the owner, architect and contractor.
“To state that we did this project without a theater consultant – that is usually unheard of,” said Beecher.“We were very careful to utilize their understanding and unique approach to theater, and the way they engage the patron into the emotion of the theater.”
Beecher said although major design elements changed several times through the years as the budget swelled from $65 million to $80 million due to overwhelming donations, he knew early on the significance of this project to the community at large and the impetus of absolutely nailing the design.
“At the beginning of this project there was a stark realization that along with the hundreds, even thousands of actors that will perform at this theater over the years, there is one consistent ‘actor’ and that is the building, and the environment around it,” said Beecher. “I took that very seriously, the fact that the actual building…is an actor in and of itself.”
“They came up with some awesome ideas about how to incorporate our conceptual ideas” added Dietein. “We wanted to create a theater unlike any other theater in the world to enhance the story telling we offer in the framework of plays and musicals. It’s a very unique building – there is nothing like it anywhere in the world in terms of a live performing venue.”
“This space makes people feel special when you walk in it,” added Quinn Dietlein, Director of Development. “It has a grandness to it, but it’s also comfortable, and that was important to us.”
Quinn added that the back-and-forth of ideas during the design process was an intense, stressful process that ultimately played out as well as it could have.
“The design felt…the entire way…very organic,” said Quinn. “Lots of conversations and lots of wrong directions that were explored…we went down a lot of different rabbit holes. Lyle and his team were extremely patient because it’s like walking people along the stream of consciousness when you’re dealing with artists.”
Site Challenges; One-of-a-Kind
According to Adamson, early geotechnical designs called for 60-ft., 16-in. metal sheet piles (225 in all) to be driven at depths of 35 to 50 ft. to stabilize the soil and combat a high water table. Crews consistently punched through the sand layer, and because they weren’t getting right levels of compressive strength, they had to weld on additional lengths of pipe in order to drill down up to 100 feet per pile in some cases, which added four months to the construction schedule. Crews also pumped out an average of 200 gallons of water per minute during early phases, and a full-time dewatering system runs 24/7, replete with a backup generator, pumping 60 gallons per minute into the storm drain system and down Dry Creek.
The building’s concrete structure required Layton to pour up to 120-foot high cast-in-place concrete shear walls utilizing scaffolding towers for added safety. Crews used a Simons gang form system and poured in 16-foot ‘jumps’, which took more than six months to complete some of the walls. Concrete walls provide key sound insulations qualities and are 18-in. thick between the main 900-seat theater-inthe-round (TIR) and the adjacent 461-seat proscenium-thrust theater.
A thin metal mesh was placed over the concrete walls between theaters so radio signals between theaters don’t interact.
“The theater is heavily focused on acoustics,” said Gary Gowers, Project Manager for BWA. “You’ll notice all walls are carpeted, there are a lot of curtains to keep lobby noise from coming in and the bottoms of doors have acoustical treatments.”
The ‘heart’ of the theater-in-the-round is the highly-technical mechanized center stage system and its myriad moving parts – it includes 47 pieces of moving machinery powered by 130 motors, along with two overhead crane trolleys with eight hoists capable of moving 16 individual pieces or performers during a production.
The stage was manufactured and installed by Tait Towers of Lititz, Penn., and is truly one-of-a-kind, in addition to being one of the most complex systems in the world.
“This job is a full range of custom machinery; we have some stock products but on these big installations it’s usually all custom,” said McLane Snow, Installation Supervisor for Tait Towers. “There is no machinery exactly like this in the entire world, and so with custom machinery comes lots of challenges. Just getting machinery in the ground…we had to build our own crane and put 250 tons of steel in the ground. That was a huge installation challenge for us. Another big challenge is not all the machinery is fully tested from the factory, so we spend a lot of time on site testing it and commissioning it, so everything the engineers and designers want actually works as planned.”
Mark Dietlein said HCT’s experience building their old theater in West Valley City 19 years ago and utilizing that at-thetime revolutionary stage gave them even bigger and better ideas for this stage.
“The stage I designed years ago gave us the opportunity to cut our teeth on some automation and to provide creativity within our shows,” he said. “We always had in our minds ideas of, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this’…all of these desires have been simmering for many years. We had a relationship with Tait Towers – they provided navigation systems for our previous stage – but our new stage is ‘hyperdrive’…it’s a whole different scenario. We’ve gone from five different components to up to 13 moving pieces. The stage it twice as fast and half the noise; the reliability of this is far superior to what we had previously been dealing with.”
The theater-in-the-round also includes a state-of-the-art LED screen system that circles the entire space and adds greatly to the diversity of performances. A ‘hearing
loop’ sound system developed by Lucent was also installed – it communicates directly to people with cochlear implants or hearing aids. Patrons will enjoy maximum comfort with padded seating and six inches of additional legroom – all part of HCT’s goal of providing the ultimate theater experience.
Mechanical systems were critical on this project in that they mitigate noise from air handling units. According to Lance Smith, mechanical designer for Salt Lakebased Van Boerum & Frank Associates, stringent aesthetic requirements required careful plumbing and mechanical consideration to achieve the desired look of the facility and the space restraints of the theater presented many obstacles. Piping and duct was routed around architectural features and noisesensitive spaces, which required weaving mechanical systems into very tight spaces. In addition, an underground groundwater drainage system was designed to pump water from under the building to prevent the building from ’floating up’ off its foundation.
The theater roofs were intentionally designed to be free from mechanical equipment in order to maintain a noisefree environment in the theaters. Large air handlers that condition and ventilate were placed on the lobby roof, which is less sensitive to noise. Main mechanical rooms are located on the pit level behind heavy concrete walls to further isolate equipment noise. A less conventional “displacement ventilation” system was used in the main theater, offering better energy efficiency and ventilation characteristics.
During theatrical haze and fog scenes (a Hale Centre staple), clean air is delivered directly at the seats which greatly increases the comfort of those who are sensitive to the effects. It also helps facilitate the quick purging of these effects when called for by the stage technicians. Several purge modes are programmed into the theater’s automated control system including low-lying fog, haze, and pyrotechnics. Additionally, air diffusers were placed behind the seats in lieu of the traditional location under the seats to prevent popcorn, soda, and other potential spills from dropping down under the risers.
Seats are mounted on risers to aid in post-performance clean up, and feature an additional six inches of legroom – a key consideration for patron comfort.
Another interesting item is the acoustical smoke vents with 24-volt electric thermo-latches, featuring a STC- 46 acoustical sound rating. They were installed by BILCO of Salt Lake, who also put in two double-leaf terrazzo floor doors that can accept a variety of flooring materials as an overlay and are used by stage crews to move equipment from below to the main floor.
Beecher said the smoke vents “solved a tremendous challenge for us” by limiting outside noise from entering the theater, while also creating a passive system of smoke ventilation.
Six large steel beams standing 72-in. high and weighing 80,000 pounds each had to be fabricated onsite by Sanpete Steel of Moroni, before being lifted into place by Glassey Steel Works of West Jordan. A massive 900-ton crane was brought in specifically to place the steel beams.
“I was concerned with getting the plate girders to fit, but the whole erection process went a lot better than we thought it would,” said Jason Larson of Sanpete
Steel. “It was put together in about two days – we couldn’t believe it went so well.”
A beautiful plaza with intricate water fountains and a 10-foot waterfall feature on the north location and a cascading waterfall at the south location add to the ambience. The plaza is highlighted by a remarkable 17-foot-tall ‘Jester’ bronze sculpture by local artist Scot Olson.
Layton’s experience building theater projects – it completed the award-winning Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake last year – aided in the construction of Hale Centre Theatre, said Adamson.
“A lot of lessons learned on Eccles (Theater) we brought over here in terms of what worked well,” he said. “Our engineers
are very experienced in theater design.”
Beecher added that the theater will certainly stand out as a “career project” for him in many respects, and said attending HCT’s opening gala November 16 was a simply magical experience.
“It was amazing to sit there and enjoy the space as a patron instead of looking at it with a critical eye as an architect,” said Beecher. “What’s magical about theater-inthe-round is that you’re watching the play and the actors, but at the same time you’re able to glance up and look at the other patrons sitting across the theater and see the emotions that they’re experiencing. That’s very powerful – it adds to the ‘emotional bath’ of the theater.”
Hale Centre Theatre
(Mountain America Performing Arts Center)
Owner: Sandy City; Hale Centre Theatre
Cost: $80 million
Square Footage: 122,300 SF
Architect: Beecher Walker Architects
GC: Layton Construction
Civil: Ensign Engineering
Electrical: BNA Consulting
Mechanical: Van Boerum & Frank Assoc.
Structural: Dunn Associates, Inc.
Key Subs: Wasatch Electric; KK Mechanical;
RLW Construction; B&D Glass; Beacon
Metals; Geneva Rock Products; Glassey
Steel Works; Heritage Roofing; Innovative
Excavation; Nicholson Construction;
Professional Painting; Sanpete Steel;
Spectra Contract Flooring; Standard
Drywall; Western States Rebar.