“With sloped floors and high ceilings in theaters and auditoriums, scaffolding is the usual challenge,” according to a representative of Acousti Engineering of Orlando, Fla., as well as every other contractor interviewed. “Clouds made of RFGs, acoustical or fabric, other more complex ceiling treatments, all require good workmanship. That is the only real challenge when it comes to ceiling work.”
At Commercial Contracting Systems of Sarasota, Fla., “Scaffolding work is time consuming and expensive work, especially when the materials have to be handed up. The real challenge lies in more complex ceilings like Southeast High School’s: We had to make dimensional clouds with threaded rods and Unistrut—24 completely differently sized pie-shape panels coming down to fit together.”
And when you are doing intricate work that far off the floor, you have to take your time.
Says a representative of SDI LLC in Auburn, Ala., “We build to OSHA requirements: strong scaffolds on castors that will reach across the room, working a section at a time and then rolling down the floor. When working this high, the mentality of the workers has to be such that they get firm footings and work carefully and patiently around the restricted mobility-and-reach resulting from the scaffolding handrails. We are patient, never pushing our guys too hard, otherwise they’ll rush so that things are out of plumb and level, needing to be redone—which of course is more expensive in the long run.”
The guys at Drury Co. of Cape Giradeau, Mo., agree: “When you are 60 feet in the air working on lots of corners and radiuses, you have to take the time to do it right.”
A representative at Certified Wall Systems in Marietta, Ga., described another problem: “We’ve completed a couple of identical theaters that we had to build ramps for in order to level our lifts to install the ceiling. We used Ecophon’s concealed ceiling tiles—the tile has a slit in the center that fits over the grid so you can’t see it. Installation is quite tedious: If you make a mistake or need to change a regular ceiling tile, you can just slip out the tile and make the change. With the Ecophon system, it fits together like a Rubik’s Cube, so if you have a problem you have to remove a lot of the tiles to access the source of the problem, because you are operating in three dimensions. We had actually bid another type of ceiling in there, but the owner changed it mid-stream. We were told to price it, bring it in, and ‘install it by the 16th when we open!’”
Midwest Drywall Co. in Wichita, Kan., worked on two of the 16 cinemas in the Regal Cinema complex in Red Rock Station Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, which are the largest in the United States in terms of cubic feet and seating (479 seats in each theater). Says Midwest’s rep, “All the interior demising walls were double-studded to heights of 54 feet with triple layers of Sheetrock on each side. The ceilings were suspended black acoustical tiles. The height was the killer, requiring 50-foot scissor lifts with outriggers. We had to leave a hole in the demising walls so that we could back out the equipment once the ceiling was in place in one theater, before moving on to the next and repeating the process. We then filled in the opening in each.
“Another unique part about this job was we then framed all the stadium seating out of structural metal studs, to which they added metal decks and pour stops, and then poured concrete over them. Lastly, we ran into an extremely accelerated schedule, seven-days-a-week double shifts to make it come together. After about six weeks on the site, the general contractor asked us how fast we could go to pick up some lost time in their schedule. We gave them some pricing, added people, overtime, and a second shift, several scissor lifts/booms and they accepted the proposal. We topped out at more than 80 men on the job site and are completing the entire $3 million contract in about four months.”
When the GC Makes Things Difficult
The folks at Central Idaho Systems in Lewiston, Idaho, had to deal with a troublesome GC: “One project that was a lot of fun was a kiva—a theater in the round. It had the step-down floor, and was a 24-sided building, each pie-shaped side on a different plane, coming to a point. With the floor stepping down and having to scaffold each one, we did one pie shape and then rotated the scaffold to the next one.
“The highest point was more than 30 feet up, and the steps for the seating went up 14 feet. This building sat on pillars, with a connecting hallway between it and the existing building next door. All the materials had to go through the existing building. The [wallboard] had to be taken down a stairway less than 12-feet wide, so we couldn’t move around the corner: so we rolled the sheets end over end down two floors into this area.
“We did clouds and pie-shaped and sloped ceilings at different elevations for an auditorium at a high school in Washington. This job had some unnecessary and unusual challenges: The contractor had already poured the different elevations for the seating, so we had to scaffold each one separately and continuously. Then we bid on the basis that the angle iron in the ceiling area would be sitting in place perfectly per the structural plans so all we would have to do was weld 6-inch metal studs to it. But because the area was sloped and convex, the GC thought the expense of radiusing the iron was too great, so he had the structural engineer change the plans without sending us a change order or information. When we arrived to start work, the whole ceiling was different, and we had to make the radius, curvature and slope ourselves. This caused us a lot of grief, putting clips onto their steel to accept the angle of our framing.
“GCs seem generally now to be willing to create extra work and make it harder for us if it will save them some money. We received a small reimbursement but nowhere near what it actually cost us.”
Then there’s the architect who knows what he wants but not how to get there.
For Bradshaw and Associate of Anchorage, Alaska, “the challenge with auditoriums is not scaffolding for high ceilings and sloped floors, but figuring out the effect the owners and architects really are looking for. We keep finding that what is on the plans and what they want as they see the result of the plans unfolding are completely different. So we bid based on the plans but provide value engineering, almost redesigning the job so as to give the architects and owners what they want yet within the original budget.
“Our margins remain the same, but we find we are then included in the next design team and are used for the next project. We add value that generates new business for us as the ‘go-to’ people who can generate the ideas that are needed and who know what can and cannot be done in our industry.”
Showcasing Some of that Workmanship
“The GC spent a lot of time with baffles and sound quality for their drywall ceiling in Asbury Church’s sanctuary for 4,000 people. The ceiling is suspended and has a bunch of shapes to give it some convex surfaces where the sound can bounce. We built a huge scaffold for all the subs on this project. Building that was the first challenge, and framing was the second, because there are no flat spots: it’s up, down, around, and all kinds of sound and lighting equipment in these concave areas.” Midwest Drywall Co. in Wichita, Kansas
“The main lobby of the 16-plex, Warren theatre in Wichita, Kan., is a large oval dome that goes across the whole lobby. The unique point is that it is all radius with a rolled edge that we built of sheetrock. It looks like it’s plaster, but it is all decorative drywall that we then painted with a high-sheen automotive paint: It just glistens, jumps out at you when you walk into the building. You really need craftsmen for this kind of work. The framing alone looked so good it was a shame to cover it up. But the rocking was the critical element: to roll it, we had to wet it extremely, rake it, and then the tapers took it from there. They almost used enough mud for the coves, for instance, to be basically plastered, although we used Sheetrock mud to do it.” Midwest Drywall Co. in Wichita, Kansas
Commercial Interiors of Hanover, Md., worked on the 30,000 to 40,000 square-foot Morgan State Fine Arts ceiling in Baltimore a couple of years back, which featured a Rulon, waved wood suspended ceiling. “The weight and fragility of the product made it hard to install, but it went together pretty well. The wood was a ribbed, pliable plywood product with a veneer, and the sections were very large, 4 feet in width by between 5 and 10 feet in length. We raised them into position with duct jacks and a lot of manpower.”
Performance Contracting of Anaheim, Calif., installed another Rulon ceiling for the Colburn School of Performing Arts. Rick Mawhorter was the field foreman and he acknowledges the estimator, Bruce Petillo, who has since passed away, for his key contributions to the project. About the job, Mawhorter says “Getting the radius correct at that height was one heck of a challenge, with a lot of upfront measuring and planning. We were up on a platform scaffold without access to the ground below and had to meet an exact radius. If we had less or more of a radius, it would change the dimension. Everyone was really happy with the result.”
“For a school auditorium in Carbondale, we had clouds of drywall hanging from a radiused and very-high-up ceiling, which was pretty challenging. They needed two layers of board on the 8,550 square-foot ceiling for the acoustics.” A&K Specialty Contractors of Marion, Illinois
“We just completed one of our most interesting and difficult auditorium projects, renovation of a 6,600 square foot, 900-seat auditorium in the center of a three-story brick building constructed in 1926. The existing ceiling consisted of a plaster ceiling with plaster coffers suspended from a concrete deck. A majority of the old plaster, which contained asbestos, was demolished and the deck and duct work was painted black. The existing ceiling under the balconies was repaired and new acoustical sound panels installed.
“Completing the work on the main auditorium ceiling presented several challenges. Although all of the seats and fixtures had been removed, the floor was sloped and many subcontractors needed access to the walls and ceilings. The GC constructed a raised, fully decked scaffold that was close to the balcony height. This enabled contractors to work on the floor and on the raised scaffold. Great care had to be taken not to damage any of the existing ornate plaster on the walls and ceilings, although we repaired or replaced much of it.
“We then installed acoustical clouds on the auditorium and atrium ceilings using metal studs and track, furring channel, sound batting insulation, and drywall—taped and sanded. The finished product was painted and then suspended from the ceiling with hanger wire that had been painted black.
“Although the cloud system looked good on a flat blueprint, constructing them on-site proved much more difficult. Our carpenter foreman transferred each cloud’s measurements onto the floor of the scaffold and then built the clouds on the scaffold. Using a plumb bob, laser and string line, he was able to determine the height and angle to suspend each individual cloud. The acoustical cloud system is designed to send reflections from the performers on stage to the patrons in their seats.” Braun Plastering of Jefferson City in Missouri
While one Floridian contractor said he had not done a ceiling in an auditorium for the past eight years, because “It seems every auditorium ceiling is exposed deck or drywall these days,” it also seems there are still plenty of opportunities to overcome the scaffolding challenges and begin work on the real challenges up among the clouds.
And the result is often something one can look up to.