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Botched high school lighting install

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by Sayen, Sep 18, 2008.

  1. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    I could write pages about the mistakes made in my new theater, but an interesting problem came up recently, and I'm curious about how common this is, or if there's a way I can fix it.

    Every light in the theater - house, vestibules, stage, and theatrical, along with circuits for work lights and flood lights - runs through the theatrical lighting system, dimmers and regulars, controlled from a fancy relay cabinet. The system has failed twice now, leaving the room in complete darkness.

    If the power is cut to the building, the emergency lights kick on. But here's the catch - they don't come on if it's just a failure of the lighting system. We are approaching the end of a problem filled warranty period, and I realized this week that if the system fails during a performance with an auditorium full of people, the only way to restore lighting, even for an emergency, is to race upstairs in the dark, enter the dimmer room, and manually kill the power to trick the emergency lights into coming on.

    Is this normal? Any advice, other than the usual emails to authorities above me to alert them (they'll ignore them)?
     
  2. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    My first suggestion is to check the defaults on your dimmer racks. When you are having a failure, I assume that it is a loss of DMX? If so, modern racks have a setting that they will hold the last look for either a timed duration or infinite. That should save you in most situations. My guess is that you have all your work lights being controlled by a Unison rack (or something similar), because I wouldn't imagine that you would be running everything through your console all the time. Again, this should be able to be set for emergency situations. However, I have had my own challenges with these systems, but that's usually after they are a few years old. Unfortunately for the sake of control, this is a common setup. You will need some additional troubleshooting on your settings for your racks as well as the brain for your control system.

    I'm not suprised that you have your issues there. I was a TD at the HTC in downtown Phx and had theater consultants/designers (who already had the design contract) come through for a tour, not knowing what the parts of a theater were and "why do you need a fly system?" In fact, that jewel of the downtown had it's own lighting nightmare in the way the neutrals and grounds were shared in dangerous ways as well as other wiring hazards. Problem was, the installer had gone out of business before the problem was discovered.
     
  3. len

    len Well-Known Member

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    Since the warranty is about to expire the first thing I'd do is contact the installer or whoever is responsible for the warranty. If you don't get an immediate response, send a certified letter and copy all the mfg. who are likely involved to cover yourself. And keep on them until it gets fixed.
     
  4. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    The catch is I'm low man on the totem pole, and like in most school districts student complaints count for more than anything I say. As tempting as it is to tip off parents, as political as my district is I would quickly find myself looking for a new job. At the end of the day, I love where I work.

    All of the lighting doesn't run through the console, although the console can control it through the network. My knowledge of the system gets a bit shakey at this point - it's all controlled through ColorNet, Leviton's proprietary ethernet. There isn't a standard wall switch around. I gather this is somewhat common for Leviton installs.

    The safety element is my big concern, but there are other fun bits. The stage managers panel is non-programmable, and wired so that about 50% of the time when you touch it, it shorts out and you have to wait for it to reset. The booth includes a set of faders on the wall to control lights, and the last time the console locked up I hit the power button on the wall too hard and the entire thing fell off onto the floor... About half of the FOH lighting positions are obscured by acoustic treatment, because the lighting company never met the sound company. In an older theater, this would be SOP, but this is a brand new installation. Yay, tax dollars at work!

    I like your suggestion Len. Nothing will come from it, but it will help get this on the record.
     
  5. CowboyDan

    CowboyDan Member

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    In my experience you should keep talking to people to let them know that there is a problem. It seem to me if a room could possibly go dark in the middle of a performance you would want to fix that. I am talking about the administrators not you.

    I would continue to talk to them about it and push the safety issue. If nothing else bring it up to the Fire Marshal. If you want to go that far.

    I do not think I would just live with it.

    Best of Luck
     
  6. RichMoore

    RichMoore Member

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    I must agree with len. Get the word out to the installer, the general contractor and the administrators of your district. If the warranty is about to expire, something must be done and done quickly.

    Push the safety issue hard. You do not want someone's child to get injured, because then you would have to live with that forever. A job is a job and there are other jobs out there. You are the steward of your venue and if you do not get it right and get it right now, it will never be right

    I had to go through some of the same issues that you are dealing with now when we opened our new venue 3.5 years ago. I admit that I was not the most popular person around at that time, but my constant pushing and bit**ing about the issues got the problems resolved, and now we are functioning at almost 100%.

    New constructions are not a cake walk. Everyone thinks, ok, it is all brand new and will work perfectly.....wrong!!! Theatrical spaces are so complex and intricate that just any sub-contractor cannot really do the work correctly. There are no craftsmen anymore who would gladly place their name on their work. 99% of the construction workers are only looking toward "beer-thirty" and could really care less about the quality of work that they produce.

    Also, remember that the company who did the work was the "lowest bidder", and that means that they did the work as CHEAPLY as they could.

    Stand up....make some noise....get some attention....politics be d***ed....jump up and down and listen for a clank.

    My $.02.

    Rich Moore
     
  7. quarterfront

    quarterfront Member

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    One thing I might suggest, if you haven't already done this, is to get a manufacturer's rep and a rep from the installer to do a combination inspection/orientation session with you and somebody above you. This accomplishes several things.

    1) If any of the problems come down to operator error you eliminate those from the equation. (Even simple lighting control systems can be confusing and they rarely come with adequate documentation. After the recent installation of a lighting system in a new black box where I work I had to spend the better part of a day going around flipping switches, pressing buttons and taking notes to suss out what did what, how the board and the SM panel interacted, etc...).

    2) It gets the manufacturer & installer on your side. If you come to them saying, "Your gear stinks" they're on the defensive. If you come to them saying, "We're having problems, could be we're doing something wrong, could be a fault in the system, we don't care who's to blame but we need to solve the problems", you create a relationship where they're HELPING YOU which keeps everybody friendly.

    3) It lets you walk through every part of the system, methodically, with them to find anything that is steadily faulty. Granted, it doesn't necessarily isolate intermittent problems, but you do catch anything that's just plain broken.

    4) It creates a relationship with them that is based on them knowing that you know how the system works so that when a problem crops up they take you seriously and you all are speaking the same language.

    5) It makes the installer feel the manufacturer looking over their shoulder without you being a bad-guy who sic'd the manufacture on the installer. You just asked for help, you didn't go placing blame on anybody.

    6) It helps you solve your problem and build a relationship at the same time. Down the line making friends always pays off.

    Just my $0.12.
     
  8. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    If it is a new facility there should be documents somewhere showing the names of the Lighting Contractor, Architect, Electrical Engineer, etc. Based on your comment regarding the sound and lighting coordination, it sounds like you might have the too common problem where in an attempt to save money, the project was piecemealed out, often with the lighting and audio designed and contracted directly outside the Prime Contract. If so, this can easily lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication; maybe the lighting contractor thought the Electrician was handling the switching and the Electrician thought it was part of the lighting and it never got coordinated.

    You might want to try to get some of the administrators and others into the room and then emulate a system failure. If your district is politically motivated, the concept of being associated with a known potential life safety hazard should get some attention. A call the the Fire Marshall might also get some response!
     
  9. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Are Las Vegas shows and installations the only ones who use ATPs (Acceptance Test Procedures)?

    Once an installation is complete and before final payment to the contractor(s), ATPs are conducted to prove to the Owner (or his/her authorized representative), that the systems meet the operational specifications, and perform as expected. Any deviations from the specifications must be corrected, waived, or the original specifications altered.

    For example, an unnamed production company has a twenty-seven line item checklist before accepting an ETC SourceFour™ ERS.
     
  10. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    Thank you for the posts, and the encouragement. You're describing exactly what we have been doing. This is the end of a four year process, and I am definitely not popular any more. The powers that be, everyone above my administration, just don't care if they are associated with a liability or not. I doubt it is even the lowest bidder, but I'll keep my suspicions of criminal activity to myself. Mostly.

    The system has never worked properly, and fails on about a monthly basis, although this is the first total black out. I won an argument to run a direct DMX line, which has saved us every time the junky network equipment fails.

    A great deal of the equipment campus wide was signed off by the owner (district) without an actual test, and lighting was probably the same situation. Genuinely, I can't begin to express how absurd the situation here is, and it would be funny if it wasn't true. Later I'll have to post a picture of the unistrut held up above the audience with a hose clamp. Still there after almost a year.

    I like the suggestion of forcing another walkthrough, Quarterfront, thanks.
     
  11. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    You should easily be able to call in warranty repairs for these situations without much trouble with red tape. These are genuine repair items (separate from your main issue) and should get your foot in the door with the installer. Once you get them out to do a repair, the repair techs are much more approachable than the salesman or dealing with your administration. When the repair tech is there, talk to them about your issues, even though they are not on the repair ticket. The repair guy will most likely (in all my experience) take a look at it for you and give you an estimate on what it will take to remedy your main concern. That will give you the needed ammunition to get the situation resolved. If it is a simple procedure (like the programming I suggested before), he may do it for you right then and save you the headache of red tape. I had great success doing things this way even when I wasn't a direct employee of an establishment (contract AV at a resort hotel).

    Hope that helps.
     
  12. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Typically, unless there is a third party commissioning agent involved the system designer would assess compliance with the Contract and recommending acceptance, however only the Owner can actually accept the work. If the work is performed as design/build where the system designer is also the system installer and there is no third party commissioning agent, then the responsibility for any assessment essentially falls onto the Owner.

    Unfortunately, if someone has already accepted the systems then you have lost most of your leverage. Any warranty on the systems depends on what was contracted, a one year system/building warranty is typical but not guaranteed. Also, warranty relates primarily to faulty products or workmanship, not necessarily to the system design or what was contracted. If something is broken or not working as was defined, that is a warranty issue, but if it was not defined to be provided or identified as a requirement, then that is likely not a warranty issue. If you have someone come out on a warranty call and it is subsequently deemed to not be a warranty issue, you will likely be charged for their time.

    One major point to always consider is that almost everything may come down to what was directed and contracted. One university project I am working on just had a major walk-through and coordination meeting 11 months after opening in order to coordinate all the outstanding issues before the warranty expired. They actually had a very similar situation with the lighting. The issue that came up there is that the solution required work and hardware that was not part of the initial design. Even though it seemed a rather obvious oversight, the university would have had paid for the work and equipment if it had been included in the initial design, so they still had to pay that difference now. In this case I believe the design work to incorporate the changes carried no charge, but the equipment and installation itself had not been part of the work contracted and thus the University had to pay for it. Which brings up the possible factor of whether your situation is truly an oversight or a possibly decision made at some point in order to save money. The latter would certainly explain any resistance to it being brought to any one's attention.

    So you might want to do a little research into whether the lighting issue was addressed in the initial design and then not provided or if it was not covered in the system design or it it was perhaps deleted as an Owner elected Value Engineering decision. Each of these differing situations may require a different approach.
     
  13. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    I'm not allowed to see the designs (!) or even talk to the subcontractors any more (although I gave the subcontractors my cell number, so they can talk to me). I used to make my own warranty calls too, but I'm forbidden to do that now too - it's all a control game with the powers that be. I am mostly certain that what we have is installed according to plan, which is why I posted here. Your situation that you describe is probably exactly what we have - nothing was built in, and the fix will likely cost money and be denied. I was just curious how common it was to run all of the lighting through the theatrical control system, when the system is as unreliable as ours is. Betting on the dimmers taking a few moments to shut off seems shady to me.
     
  14. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Yes, I agree. I only suggested it since the SM panel did sound like a warranty issue. No, it is not wise to ever try and call in a warranty repair unless it is without a warranty issue.

    Sayen,
    If you are not allowed to call in items for warranty repair, definitely make nice to whomever does have that ability. Remind them that anything that you are able to get remedied now will probably save them in future budget years. You should still be able to call the manufacturer(s) and get customer support (especially if it is a programming issue). If it is a design/value engineering flaw, you're up a creek. Require all your stagehands to have a flashlight on them at all times and start some emergency planning.
    I assume your console simultaneously send out network data and hardline dmx? If so, I would circuit the worklights in the lower universe just to be safe.
     

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