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Access to rigging

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by BillConnerFASTC, Jul 25, 2018.

  1. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I've done a lot of 50' stages with underhung rigging but all new build in last 10-15 years which all include a means to get to the rigging over the stage. At 50', I prefer catwalks, as illustrated in this article: http://www.lightingandsoundamerica.com/mailing/PLASAProtocol/PWinter14_StageHeight.pdf
    The 22" wide catwalks 8' on center typically allow three shell ceiling panels and the 4th electric to store under then with a high trim in the 35-40' range, while the rest of the rigging has a high trim in the 44'-45' range - enough for a lot of rental drops and to fully fly curtains. With a trip up a stair, maybe some ladder, you are within arms reach of every part of the rigging. I put a high value on that.

    Now I'm being asked (by the architect for budget) to forego the catwalks, so rigging is hanging there 50' in the air with no easy way to inspect and service it. I'd estimate those typically 4 catwalks at $40,000-50,000 in what is probably a $10-12m project. Just for perspective, I'm thinking about walking away from a project that represents a fourth or fifth of my income for a year.

    I just wonder if I value this access to rigging too highly, and should say sure, but plan on renting a big scissor lift once a year for annual inspection plus whenever service is needed between. (Ofcourse they won't if like most schools, and it will never be inspected. That is what happens.)

    Please share your thoughts and comments, with my thanks in advance.
     
  2. coldnorth57

    coldnorth57 Active Member

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    I agree that rigging need to have proper access. And I realy think that the architect is asking this to be cut from the budget , he has no idea or willingnes to understand the many problems he will be causing in the future. mho
     
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  3. JJBerman

    JJBerman Active Member

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    Well, I will say that the high school I work at doesn't have those catwalks and in the 8 years I've worked there, we do our best to "inspect" the rigging that can be seen from the ground/lock rail/arbor/loading bridge on an annual basis.
    The theatre was finished in 2003 and hasn't had a full top to bottom inspection since installation.

    We got funding from USITT's Rigging Safety Initiative and planned to rent a large lift so the company doing the inspection could reach the entire system. However 3 weeks before the scheduled inspection dates the company wanted to pull out.
    Through complaining and hassling the company came in for an afternoon and "looked" at everything they could see from the stage and loading bridge. The company provided a "detailed" inspection report and that was it. This was in 2015.

    Since this "Inpsection" from the company, we had a curtain fall off the pipe(supposedly kids were holding onto the curtain when it was being pulled out) which got a lift line stuck in a mule pulley.
    This was fixed by facilities staff and never talked about again.
    We have also have a new theatre manager who is up to his eyes in everything needs TLC or replacement and one of the smallest budgets known to man to do it in. He is just getting his feet wet in informing his superiors about all the issues so that he can get more people behind him in fixing everything.

    If we had catwalks that could help in inspecting the rigging, I know it would be much easier to perform annual checks and to diagnose issues before they become bad. However we are stuck in the if it aint broke don't fix it and there isn't money set aside to inspect the system as it is right now. Which is really funny as there is plenty of money to inspect the basket ball hoops(weekly/monthly/annually) and ropes courses(monthly/annually) in all the district schools but none for the theatre.
     
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  4. Stan Longhofer

    Stan Longhofer Member

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    I'm assuming that this is part of a larger bid package and not a design-build contract, so the architect is trying to make sure they can be the low bid. Unfortunately, the people making the decisions "don't know what they don't know." Often the low bid is not the least expensive in the long run.

    As an end user that works with our school administrators to help them understand why certain expenses are important, I'd value receiving TWO bids. One without the catwalks and one with. But each of them should also include an estimated annual cost of maintenance (and the reasons this maintenance is essential) so that they can make an informed decision.

    One of my big pet peeves is architects that make design decisions without ever consulting with someone who uses the space on a daily basis. Old halogen house lights with no way to easily replace the lamps is one example. In our high school theater (built just 11 years ago) there were numerous others, including clouds that block access to the first catwalk lighting pipe and sprinkler system pipes that were installed between the second catwalk and the lighting pipe.
     
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  5. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I would estimate the cost of those catwalks to be higher than $50k. I can never get a clear answer when my projects go to VE because everyone's playing their own numbers games, but usually there's additional structures, ladder/stair access/work lighting/etc. that fold into those costs with the extra floor space. Also, steel tariffs.

    I think you've keyed in on the main points. The systems simply won't be serviced. Excuses will vary from "it's not a pressing enough need" to "it costs too much" or "that size of scissor lift won't fit through the doors or will damage the stage floor."

    From the perspective of system longevity, on any motorized hoists I suspect routine service means you can extend the lifetime of your hoists by 5-10 years. Some minor work here and there as-needed can postpone a major overhaul. If no service or inspections are done, you can just about guarantee the next time someone gets up to that rigging will be for maintenance that necessitates a more extensive scope of repair/overhaul -- the cost of which itself will be higher because of the needed lift.

    Looking at it from a technology perspective, there will only be more and more audio, video, and lighting equipment used in these spaces. Having connectivity and cabling in high accessible spaces adds a significant degree of flexibility. Not that most of this cannot be supported from ground level locations but you end up with spaghetti strung all over the place.

    One of the hidden benefits is that having walkable access available during construction can help the project be completed faster with better CA, and with fewer labor costs. Sometimes pulling that walkable access out means somewhere else someone has to jack up their on-site installation fees, whether that's riggers, electrical, fire protection, mechanical, or whomever else. I have a few catwalk access projects happening right now where everyone on-site was/is eager for the day the catwalks show up. Then they only need 2-3 scissor lifts in the room instead of 6-8. If you have a CM on board already, might want to ping them and see if they can off-the-cuff throw a PITA factor at how elimination of the catwalks impacts their construction effort.
     
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  6. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    We use that argument a bit. In my experience, it's less that there's no money (there's really not money for all the other stuff either), but the people in charge of doing the inspecting simply understand those aspects of their job better. The ones I've encountered they are very leery of auditoriums as they seem like weird almost-gyms that have a lot of moving parts and strange children that frequent. I try to be an ambassador in this situations, point out the similarities with what we do.


    To answer your question, Bill, I speak from a standpoint of a facility manager in a space with very similar dimensions to what you described with zero access to the grid. We recently had work done that involved fixing an electric that had been broken for several years. A lift line was threaded incorrectly through a loft block during the install and went over a spreader bolt, eventually sawing through the bolt and allowing the sides of the block to press against the pulley essentially becoming a friction brake. This was fixed in 2017, the building was built in 1995. That repair would have taken a qualified tech maybe an hour or two to do with catwalk access. Instead it took years of petitioning for a qualified rigging contractor to come out, with a lift. Unfortunately the tallest lift that our floor is able to support doesn't quite reach the grid. I won't go into details there, but it was involved. Fortunately it was the outside block. If it were in the middle it probably wouldn't have gotten fixed at that time. We are pushing to get relatively consistent inspections done, but there is a large portion of the system that cannot ever be closely inspected due to lack of access.

    Anytime a lift line gets fouled (usually the long one flips over another) that's a trip maxing out the genie lift with a long pole to right it. I actually just heard of a damaged fly system nearby where a runway bar crashed and they are awaiting the process of getting the qualified team out to inspect and do the repairs. A process that generally takes months. In the meantime, that batten is suspended and there's no way to tell if anything over stage was damaged from shockloading.

    Another aspect of our space that is uniquely annoying is the multicable for the electric is terminated directly over the electrics and not on the side as is more common. It's almost impossible to access some of those boxes, should one fail (as has happened in similar spaces near us) it's a very challenging and dangerous task to fix. A walkable space over stage would make that significantly less of a problem.

    I think the value you are placing here is with good cause.
     
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  7. kicknargel

    kicknargel Well-Known Member

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    In terms of whether it's worth walking away from the project, here's a question to ask yourself: what are the consequences of a failure due to non-inspection? If the consequences are a huge PITA and expense, well then the user is paying the price of value engineering, which you warned them about. If the consequence is injury and death, I'd consider walking away.
     
  8. microstar

    microstar Well-Known Member

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    I would imagine there are thousands of auditoriums/theatres that do not have catwalks/grids for access to their rigging system.
    A majority of them probably never get inspected and/or worked on until something jams. Seems like if you warn the architect and owner and they opt for the value engineering, you've done your best to present the facts. We all know the fact is that if something bad happens, people can still sue you even if it's not your fault. So if the catwalks were included in the project and something happened, you would still be in the line of fire.
     
  9. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Stan - at beginning of design. Whole building has to be designed and then bid, so hard to tell.

    Mike - I base my $50,000 on having had these bid as alternates - around $10,000 each. Minimal service catwalks - 60' X 2'. Which means catwalks are definitely cheaper than motorized electrics BTW. Access to two steps up from the loading bridge, sometimes level. If they want to cut the loading bridge - then I'm gone. Just inspected a place with no bridge and 15 sets - a third had crashed as evidenced by bent arbor bottoms and torn off top stops - and there was a bull winch - which nobody knew how to use - the problem with bull winches. (And I have had rigging companies tell me it was a definite install cost savings.)

    Nick - I consider injury and serious injury a definite potential for improperly maintained rigging. Or as I usually tell the Owner in defending these, with them, if you hear a noise or thump or squeak - you can go look and see if there is a problem. Without them, all you can do is pray. (Not so effective at certain private schools.)

    Microstar et al - Yes, there are lots of underhung rigging systems with no access, and probably the majority of them not maintained. I don't think that make it right or good design. And having access does not guarantee inspection or maintenance or safety - but I know it increases the odds significantly.

    Please continue.
     
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  10. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I can say in the last 4 years I have not had a single under-hung stage that has had cross-stage catwalks installed in such a manner. As a matter of fact I've had to book several boom/snorkel lifts so Technicians could perform inspections on almost every non-walking floor grid I've seen.
     
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  11. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    Hi Bill-

    Human behavior is such that things that are inconvenient and/or expensive to do, and for which there is not an immediate, life-threatening need, will not get done. Making things more convenient is not a guarantee that inspections or maintenance will get done but convenience has the benefit of easily predictable costs because you've built in the access. Figuring it out later is certain to cost more.

    Lower operating costs, potentially safer work environment is probably the way to pitch your catwalks. If the architect doesn't see the value in those it might be prudent to inquire of him as to what he's really wanting to present to the client. You can decide then if you want to continue participating.
     
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  12. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    And thsts an ok thing or a good thing? It is a concept I have not seen anyone else do., but probably some have. Certainly more typical to put a full walkable grid in but that's not inexpensive, and then you have to go over the 50' and that's at least several hundred thousand for that first inch OR you end up with maybe a 35-38' high trim throughout.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 26, 2018
  13. teqniqal

    teqniqal Well-Known Member

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    I don't think you are undervaluing the fly loft access at all. I have this same challenge come-up all the time. Maybe the best solution is to put the architect up on a 45' lift and see how they imagine spending a week up there doing an inspection . . .

    Attached is a whitepaper based upon a blog post I made on the now defunct TheatreFace site [RIP].
     

    Attached Files:

  14. Amiers

    Amiers Lighting Phoenix 1 Lamp at a Time

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    I’ll bet Bill a C note he can’t get that architect in the facility let alone a lift. They care about the bottom dollar and getting their bid in. It’s the nature of the beast. Bill my suggestion to you is do what you do and if they don’t take your advice walk away. A 1/5 of your income is a good sacrifice to your good mental health.
     
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  15. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Nice paper Erich. So true. I hope you don't mind if I send a copy to this client. Of course if he doesn't want to hire me for this issue he may decide not to ask you.

    PS: you should allow DVS to post it here in Resources.
     
  16. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    FWIW, I haven't encountered any architects who had disregard for the quality of their project. They want to make their clients happy, and their clients are applying pressure to keep project costs low, otherwise they (the client) will get fired by their boss or will have to resign. Construction costs have skyrocketed in the last couple years, especially with the introduction of tariffs. Districts are building campuses based on the last projects they built 10 years ago, and even when corrected for inflation you cannot build a 2000-student high school for that anymore. I'm seeing a lot of projects K12 and otherwise come in at 15-25% over budget. Engineers, architects, electricians, plumbers -- there aren't enough of them out there. Lot of them left the industry or retired after 2008 and now that the economy has recovered that talent has not been able to recover at the pace of construction projects commencing. Bidders are throwing high numbers at projects because they'll either have to hire new people if they get them or they'll have to do it with existing workers on overtime.

    One of my recent projects was a 2000 student school with a 750-seat theater wing. Project came in at $85M based on a $50M budget that was an inflation-corrected budget from the last school that had been constructed. Everything was getting VE'd across the entire project. I showed up on a Monday to an email that there were 4 VE alternates being looked at to bring the project costs down that would be presented to the school board that afternoon. The top 3 options all included killing the auditorium and reducing the student capacity by 400-800 students. At the last minute we were able to save the theater by going to a black box theater instead -- something is better than nothing -- and that was still with a student capacity reduction of 400. If building a full auditorium meant reducing capacity another 200 students, you can bet the public outrage would be off the charts.

    Resist the urge to be cynical. Projects don't cost what they used to.
     
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  17. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    In my experience Mike is correct. A few years ago I was riding with and architect to a project and he pointed to a building. It was his first (elementary) school. $10/sf. Today, that is at least $250/sf. A 750 seat high school auditorium with 50' stage with rigging is $10M today. Its very hard to get school boards and administrators to accept that; and thus the pressure is to cut what they can't see or don't understand. That's a lot in auditoriums and stages ordinary people don't see or understand, and it is darned hard to defend all of it successfully from concept to substantial completion. The architect up front, school board and administrators near end of design estimates, and the contractors during bidding and building. All those thing that are important to seeing and hearing and generally supporting the performer audience relationship are always under attack.

    The worst part is when I see their means are very far from their dreams, and try to suggest alternatives that can be done acceptably well for the budget. Too often they decide to try to do the dream scheme and it ends up being a noisy, poorly equipped, safety compromised venue that does not support the students or community very well at all, and creates expectations that can't be met. I accept not all communities can afford the grand PAC, but let's build a room that has some quality and redeeming values. Mike's black box being an example.

    I love some of the late 1920s up till WW II high school theatres. Generally complete and thoughtful, even if hemp rigging, resistance dimmers have, a very large Voice of the Theatre speaker hidden behind a grill, all which don't work anymore. They didn't cheap out like today.
     
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  18. Jay Ashworth

    Jay Ashworth Well-Known Member

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    It will eventually drop something and kill someone.

    Your career is based on not letting that happen.

    Put the catwalks in, tell them why, remind them that the cost of the catwalks is delta, if not epsilon, and ask them if they want to be the reason some kid dies in a decade.

    And yes, if you don't like the answer, bail, and make sure they know why.

    As for "what things cost now, and what the public will tolerate"... there's a vocal Arts activism community now. Find them. Sell the differential to *them*, and let them string up the school board to get all of it done. :)

    If you were looking for support for your view, here you go. :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
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  19. Stan Longhofer

    Stan Longhofer Member

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    Which is why I think it's so important to get these decision makers into comparable spaces with a theater professional to see the real impact of these decisions. Erich's suggestion of getting the architect up on a lift would be even better applied to the school administrators (perhaps along with their attorneys). Of course, it is also up to the drama teachers and tech directors to do the ongoing work of educating them about what is really involved in putting together theatrical events.
     
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  20. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I meant to include that Central High School in Rapid City SD is of this design and is the last project of mine done by Stagecraft.
     

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