AV is up for debate

AUTHOR: Inavate

The day before Mid Bedforshire District Council used their new concil chamber in anger, InAVate was invited to visit the site. Chris Fitzsimmons reports.

Mid Bedfordshire District Council, a local authority in Southern England, has brought together staff and facilities from two different sites to a brand new building in Chicksands, near the town of Shefford.

A central part of the project and the heart of the building, is the new Council Chamber. AV consultants Sandy Brown, Shen Milsom & Wilke were tasked with delivering an AV solution for the chamber to meet the needs of the council for a flexible, multipurpose meeting space.

Sandy Brown, Shen Milsom & Wilke were originally involved early on with the architects, Hamilton Associates, on the acoustical design side of the project but were then later invited to design the audiovisual system for use in the Council Chamber and supporting area.

Andrew Smith, Senior Associate at the consultant oversaw a multiple bid process in the first quarter of this year, which eventually saw Asysco awarded the contract after narrowly seeing off the competition. Andrew worked with Peter Watts, who managed the project for the District Council, and was responsible for defining the council’s requirements.

Lee Jones, Facilities Manager for the District Council, outlined what they were looking for: “Part of the remit for the council chamber space was that it would be extremely flexible. We wanted to be able to use it for other purposes than simply council business. This desire is reflected in every part of the design, from the fact that all the desks and the dais can be removed and flat packed, to the positioning of the three screens, and the capacity of the audio system.”

Asysco, under the leadership of their Project Manager Alan Kellett, began their work at the start of May placing floor boxes and making some under floor cable runs. Second fix took place during June with final installation during July.

The Bosch DCN Next Generation wired conference system is integral to the day to day use of the space for council meetings, and 64 units were supplied along with Bosch dome cameras. These automatically track to the active microphone and the output can be displayed on one of the three projectors or on the Café’s wall mounted plasma screen.

The delegate microphones are daisy chained down the rows of desks to a single floor-box at the end of each row, concealed beneath the end of the desks. When the system is not required it’s the work of minutes to unplug the delegate units and clear the decks.

The council chamber is also equipped with three InFocus LP 850 projectors. These are paired with three 12’ x 9’ Draper Access V series tab tensioned powered screens. The projectors can take feed from any of the council chamber’s AV sources, which include a Toshiba DVD player, JVC VHS Player and Samsung UF-80 document camera. Additionally, presenters can plug in a laptop to one of three auxiliary source ports to show other content.

These sources are all located in the chamber’s mobile equipment rack, along with the Sennheiser Evolution wireless microphone system base station. This is paired up with a hand held microphone and a lapel and body pack combination, also from Sennheiser.

Audio in the debating chamber was one of the main challenges of the project. The building itself is intentionally industrial in character. This allowed the architects to save on building costs but also to produce an interesting, modern looking building. The upshot of this is that the walls of the chamber are simply concrete, and there is no false ceiling. To overcome this Sandy Brown, Shen Milson & Wilke undertook extensive acoustic modelling including EASE and ODEON. As a result the walls of the chamber are partially covered with passive acoustic panels.

Andrew Smith commented “the physical design of the building made seamless, aesthetically pleasing integration very challenging. We worked closely with the architects to define cable pathways so that there were no cables visible despite equipment being placed in the middle of walls. The roof structure dictated that there were only certain structural mounting points where the weight of the projectors and screens could be fixed. This meant that a lot of custom, high level metalwork was required. On top of all this, we had a solid concrete floor where the containment for the sub floor cables had to be installed prior to the pouring of the final concrete layer. The implication of this is that we couldn’t put any further containment into the floor so had to carefully consider not only what was required for today, but future expansion plans for the system as the infrastructure had to be installed at the start of the project.”

When not in use, the mobile equipment in the Council Chamber can be un-plugged from the floor boxes and wheeled away, leaving a totally clear floor area.

The primary sound reinforcement system comes in the shape of two sets of three SLS LS 6593s ribbon line array speakers mounted either side of the large window. These are driven by a Crown CTs 4200 and a Crown CTs 600, both amplifiers being mounted in the remote IT rack room. The Sabine FBX2400 feedback eliminator ensures that users of the wireless microphone system can roam freely.

Primary control of all the room’s AV equipment is via an AMX Modero wireless touch panel. This extends to control of the room’s curtains, projection screens and master volume for the sound system, in addition to basic source selection and control functions.

All AV control equipment is mounted in a 19” rack in the new building’s IT room. This holds the AMX NetLinx NI-3000 controller, the Extron routing and switching gear, the amplification and audio control gear, and the Bosch DCN central unit.

One of the interesting features of the project according to Andrew Smith is the use of the building’s network for all the communication between the remote rack in the IT room and the chamber’s portable equipment trolley.

“We stepped away from conventional system design with this system. Control and communication over IP rather than RS 232 is something we’re starting to do more and more as a practice. We’re controlling virtually everything via IP, with the delivery of video and data signals to all devices except the projectors and speakers via the Cat 6 structured cabling.”

Asysco’s Damien Massarella, the Commercial Manager assigned to the project commented: “It was an interesting part of the project for us. It’s not a method we’re used to, having two separate equipment racks linked over IP, but we’ve delivered Andrew’s design and it’s worked very well.”

One of the important upshots of the system’s design is that eventually council staff will be able to access the feed from the council chamber via the authorities own Intranet, and follow meetings without actually being in attendance.

Outside the chamber’s imposing, steel double-doors is the cafeteria area. This is equipped with a 50” Pioneer PDP-50MXE10 plasma screen and EAW CLA4 wall mounted speakers. It can be used for simple TV viewing by staff on a break, or for people to observe what’s going on in the council chamber during busy or important meetings. It also allows officers who are not required for large parts of a meeting to watch what’s going on without the need to sit through an entire session. An active, background noise sensing system increases the programme sound audio level in the Cafe area as the ambient noise level increases.

The overall impression of the finished building is one of slick modernity, and the AV system matches this perfectly. Everyone is delighted with the outcome of the project.

Lee Jones commented: “I’m genuinely excited with what we’ve got here, compared with the old facilities. It’s a flexible space that we’ll be able to use for training, community events and even the staff party, instead of just council meetings.”

“The client was great, giving us a clear brief on their requirements and then allowing us to interpret those requirements into the finished project design. Asysco have delivered the project on time and on budget, with the minimum of fuss. You really can’t ask for more than that,” concluded Andrew Smith.