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The SVC Interview: Nate Pugh, Neosho Junior High

The brand new Neosho Junior High School was a clean slate for a complete AV installation. Total Electronics Contracting, Joplin, Missouri, came in to install gymnasium sound, AV for cafeteria, library, building-wide intercom and classroom projectors. Nate Pugh is here to give us the whole story.

SVC: Thanks for joining us Nate. Your company must have enough experience with school AV that they were confident with having you tackle an all-new facility

Nate Pugh: Yeah. This one was actually a new junior high school for them. They were kind of busting at the seams. It’s a beautiful new building right next to one of their elementary schools.

Did they involve you at the planning stage or did Total Electronics Contracting come in after the building was completely finished?

We were pretty lucky as far as that goes. We’ve worked with this particular school district for years now—on anything from AV to access control or any life safety systems such as fire alarms or emergency notification. We also take care of their IT as far as data networking and structured wiring. And so they invited us on the planning side of it. We had to sit down with the engineers and architects and with the school district and we got to help design it from the ground up. So it really made it a simplified process, so to speak, to be there from the very beginning.

A tremendous advantage. What was the general scope of the job here? It looks like you did just about everything; the gym, cafeteria, library, the school intercom system.

We did. We kind of expanded as time went on. We were called in originally to do just the main AV meeting projectors and audio in the gymnasium and the cafeteria. Same in the library. And then we installed all the projectors and smart boards in the classrooms as well. We got called in later to install intercoms for the school and pretty much every other school in the district. They wanted to change things up a little bit and did more of the phone-based system this time. So we just pretty much did the backbone wiring for powered horns, powered speakers and tied into another provider’s phone system. But otherwise, we pretty much covered everything as far as audio and video goes throughout the building.

Was there any construction still going on while you were installing the AV or did you not have anybody in your way?

It was kind of a combination of the two. Part of it, the gymnasium itself, was actually a FEMA structure; a precast concrete structure for a community storm shelter. And so that was the first part to go up. And before they started working on floors or anything on the ground level we had to get up there pretty early. They wanted us to have our speakers in place, wire in place, projector mounts in place. So we had to put it in, wrap it up very well in bags and cover everything, just to keep up with the pace of the project.

And what did you go with for speakers in the gymnasium? That can always be a little tricky for voice clarity and reverberation.

It was. We ended up using the Community speakers in the gymnasium; their IP-8 and IS-6 series with a couple of little R.15s for some downfills. Luckily nothing was damaged during construction. The baggies kept residue from paint, from the stain of the gym floor, from sanding, everything off of them.

Well, that’s lucky. Not all of that is always under your control. And I think you drove the speakers with Ashly amps?

I did, yes. We used three NX series amps and some of the 4000s for the fill speakers, the 8000s for the mains and the 1.52s for the subs.

And the gym speakers are probably up high and away from trouble, but the amps might be a different story so where did you put those? Did they make a place for you on that?

Yeah. The architect did a really good job having a closet, probably 10×8 or so, for some of their gear; for volleyball games and such, the ladders for the referees and such can go in this closet, ball containers, stuff like that. We had a pretty good-sized corner for us to have our rack in there. Everything is well-protected, locked up. So it kind of gave us some peace of mind.

I don’t know how much peace of mind the school people had knowing there’s construction and AV installation happening on top of their brand new gymnasium floor. How antsy did they get about that?

They were a little antsy. Luckily we were able to get in early with lifts before the floor stuff was actually down. But unfortunately, like most AV jobs, nothing ever goes 100 percent as planned. So after everything was installed, of course we had some issues with some video extenders that just needed to be reset or checked terminations. We had to get up to a few projectors after the fact, but the general contractor and the school were both very understanding and were very accommodating as long as we were able to protect the floor, lay down some plywood – no-skid, nice and soft so we wouldn’t scratch the floor. We were able to get in there with some single-man lifts at least. We just had to go up there, I think, one more time after the final install, which we had to be very careful, too, because it was probably the prettiest gym floor I’ve seen at a school around here ever. The guy did a great job on it so we were very careful to keep that intact.

Where do they control the gym sound system? I would think that it would have to be flexible to accommodate all kinds of different events and seating arrangements.

Yeah. It’s kind of a multipurpose room. There are bleachers on both sides of the gym. One is the home side, one is the more of the visitors’ side – a much smaller area. And both ends also had bleachers. If they do band performances or choir or anything like that it will actually be on the gym floor so it will be closer to the shorter bleachers. So the speakers are actually on that end. They wanted those facing in towards the home side. So we have speakers on that end facing the home bleachers and we put a backstage floor pocket in there. And then they wanted some video inputs on the backside of the gym where the audience would be, so we have AMX input plates on the other side of the gym for VGA and HDMI and also AMX control panels on either side behind some locked covers. That way the people that need to get in there can and the kids with their fingers cannot. [Laughs] Just to keep it safe for everybody.

That’s always a good idea since especially in a school you don’t know who might be the temporary sound operator. So they use this sound system for basketball, school assemblies, maybe stuff like science fairs. It would need to be able to reconfigure fairly quickly and most likely to use a mic from anywhere.

Yes. They do use it quite a bit. In fact one of our last days working there they were having a dodgeball session going on. They had the whole school in there. They had some Shure wireless mics so the principal was able to walk around and make announcements. And we also had an input plate near the control room for iPads to plug in. There wasn’t really a good place to put any kind of Bluetooth receiver for them that wouldn’t be in harm’s way, so they just were able to plug into the wall and so that way it’s pretty flexible. On the controllers themselves we had to make it easy to use, but also give them all the features they wanted. So we have mutes and volumes for all the mic inputs. We actually had a secondary page on there as well for some monitor sends to the floor pocket for performances to some power JBL monitors. So we had to have quite a bit kind of packed into a small seven-inch screen but still make it easy to use and easy to get around.

What particular Shure system did you use?

We went with the SLX system. It worked very well in there. They’ve used that same system in their other schools, other buildings. They have a good history with it.

It’s a lot of distance to cover. With the wireless reception and beams and supports up in the ceiling and roof area it can be a little weird for RF reflection. How did you rig the antennas for those? That’s something that people do a lot of different ways.

Yes. We were actually not able to do it the way we originally planned. This was a precast structure so the concrete walls were precast off-site, brought in on trucks, erected right there on site with the rooftop there. The whole building was concrete with rebar reinforcement, so it was a pretty solid structure. We had requested some conduit paths for antennas to be mounted up high. With any new construction some of those were missed when the concrete that was poured, so we were unable to do what we planned on doing. But it actually worked out just fine for us. The little room that we have where our rack is only had about a 12-foot ceiling that was just sheet rocked and so we were actually able to poke through the ceiling, put our antennas up there – half-wave antennas with our distribution in the rack – and actually cover the gym beautifully. So even though we weren’t able to do it the way we originally planned it worked out in the long run for us.

One of the more interesting things on this was the cafeteria. Not one of the first places that might come to mind on a big AV installation so what was involved in that?

Yeah, for the cafeteria they pretty much modeled all their AV needs based off their old junior high. The other junior high had projection and speakers set up in the exact same way in the gym and they really liked that. But they also had kind of an overflow in their cafeteria with a projector and screen as well. So we were able to model that and move the whole thing to the new building for them. In the cafeteria we had a daylight electric projection screen. We used an Epson projector in there as its own dedicated AMX input plate and another AMX control panel in the cafeteria. That way they can turn the projector on and off, lower the screen as they need to. They have Shure wireless mics out there. We also gave them a local RCA and XLR input plate if they needed to put any auxiliary devices through there. The speakers in there were a little bit different for us. We worked with the architect and engineer pretty closely and they did different types of ceiling clouds; multiple ceiling clouds with different kinds of pendant lights. So there’s quite a bit of real estate taken up in each ceiling tile—or cloud, as it was. And originally we were going to have 2×2 ceiling tiles for the intercom system plus probably 6.5-inch ceiling speakers for our PA. They worried it was going to be too cluttered and take up too much real estate. So we were actually able to use some Velcom powered speakers with dual voice coils that worked really well for us. The primary coil was just used for any audio going through that room and then the secondary tap was used if there ever is an announcement or a page. So we can use the same speakers and take out fewer ceiling tiles.

You used AMX control and Symetrix DSP in the gym and was the Symetrix used in the cafeteria as well?

We used Symetrix Solus NX 16×8. We also added an XN4 expander just for the amount of inputs the school required for both locations.

Was the Symetrix gear used to deal with any special situation or just to get more inputs to the system?

It was just to expand the inputs. They use the building for quite a few different events – games, day-to-day activities for gym class, choir, band performances – so they wanted pretty good flexibility as far as inputs on walls for day-to-day use, wireless mics for their CD player, for miscellaneous inputs from the cafeteria. So we just had to make sure we had plenty of inputs for them.

It sounds to me as if, since it covers such a big physical area, the building-wide intercom system would have taken a lot of time.

Yeah, that took up a lot of time. [Laughs] We worked closely with the school. They’ve always had a standard centralized intercom in all their buildings; they wanted to do more of a phone-based system with SIP adapters. We lot of Valcom intercoms and so we used some Valcom powered speakers in their ceilings. The school really liked the way they looked and sounded and so we were able to put those in all the classrooms, hallways, common areas, and the gym of course. Horns in the cafeteria. We did the dual voice coil speakers in there and actually did the same thing in the library as well. They only use the speakers for one-way communication, for mass notification or for school end paging and so we were able to install that throughout the building and have multiple closets for power supplies. It took up a lot of time, but it was pretty smooth. And had to go back and make adjustments a few times and work with the phone integrator to make sure everything was wired as he required, but it worked out in the end.

Because of the distances it would have taken a fair amount of time just running all of that cable.

It did. It did. The good news was with – I think there were four IT closets per floor, so we weren’t limited really on distance. It was more just making sure we had it divided up properly for power supply use and for SIP adaptors. And just working closely with the phone integrator to make sure we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes and that we were doing exactly what he needed to be done to make the school happy.

And something that complex had to be made simple to operate as well, with all of the complicated things like switching, having levels going on automatically in the background.

Luckily for us, all we really had to do as far as that goes with the intercom was kind of make the school happy and the phone provider happy as far as how we zoned everything out. And set volumes properly. Otherwise it fell on the phone provider to have the right tones, the right programming and such. We just had to work together.

What did you use for the projectors in the 48 classrooms?

The school is very IT-oriented and very AV-oriented and so they knew exactly what they wanted as far as the classrooms go. In a lot of their other schools they’ve had really good luck with the Epson 97Hs. So we put those in all the classrooms. We used the Chief tile supports and Chief mounts in every classroom. And as far as inputs go, they really like Rapid Run, and so we did that for them. Put in wall plates with VGA with 3.5 audio HDMI and USB. They have smart boards in every classroom so the USB was required to make that work.

You didn’t use any switching in the podiums, they just run the source cable directly to the wall plates?

Yeah. As far as control goes they didn’t want anything complex. In fact, we didn’t do anything special for the control in the classrooms. We basically just put in the projectors, the smart boards, all the backbone wiring. The school wanted to set up the smart boards themselves and so they did that. And they didn’t really want any control. They wanted to be very simple because 99 percent of the time the teacher is using just one input or the other. It doesn’t have to do a whole lot of switching.

So I guess mainly what they’re doing in there is much like in higher ed where they just project from laptops and using PowerPoint and so forth.

Yeah. Exactly. They have laptops in every station in the classrooms. The classrooms don’t even have a teacher’s desk. It’s more of a movable podium so the computers, the laptops, are just left at the podium with a jumper cable to the wall plate.

Okay, and for the most part the school just issues the laptops to the faculty and they just carry them around rather than there being a desktop PC inside the podium. Good and bad points to doing it either way.

Yeah. They just have school-issued laptops for all the teachers. That way they can take them home or move classroom to classroom. It makes it easy to get around and they stay very consistent with their makes and models so everybody is on the same page there.

Now in the library, how do they use the video in there?

They actually just have one projector in the main library area. There’s two or three offices within the library, but the main library itself is an open room with some tables and some chairs. And we just put an Epson projector with a daylight electric screen with a simplified wall controller and just a VGA and HDMI input in the librarian’s office.

So I guess you must have other projects coming up.

Yeah. We were doing a few other schools so it kept us pretty busy through the summer, as you can imagine. Summers are the crazy time for AV integrators with schools. [Laughs] But what we have on our plate now, we’re working on a courtroom audio system. We have a few other school gyms we’re working on, a library in that same town – just the public library down in Neosho. We’ve been doing a lot of school intercoms recently. We have a few more on our plate right now. We’ve been doing some sound masking here and there recently. So we’ve been staying pretty busy with all different sorts of AV projects. It’s nice to have some variety.

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