Green and Black

Turntable technology has been around since the 1950s, when it was mostly featured in those iconic black and white television commercials for new cars or the latest large home appliances. In recent years, more school districts have jumped on the bandwagon as they consider turntables as one component of a business strategy to insure cost-efficient and maximum use of space. Budget conscious administrators recognize that construction of a static school auditorium with uses limited to performances and perhaps study halls is hard to justify given the costs associated with construction and operation through the life of the building, especially with today’s tight budgets and ever decreasing federal dollars.

One application drawing considerable attention is the Turntable Divisible Auditorium (TDA), in which sections of the facility are placed on turntables and rotated independently to create separate learning centers, theaters or lecture halls. Multiple TDAs can be installed and operated simultaneously, which provides even more effective use of space since different classes can be conducted without one group disturbing another. Even more important, schools are finding that changing a facility from static to dynamic is cost-effective and environmentally sound at a time when the emphasis is on both.

The Evolution of the TDA
The turntable, as a business application, has been with us for nearly 60 years, and its fundamentals are unchanged — steel track, wheels and a low horsepower motor. It has been used for a variety of purposes such as revolving restaurants, trade shows, truck and car displays, and rotating concert stages. It was the latter that caught the eye of school administrators and building planners in an attempt to use turntables to create more functional auditoriums. Growing concern about lessening a building’s environmental footprint by the 1990s brought even more focus on the turntable as an application that could offer optimum efficiency of building space in education.

In the mid-1960s, decades before the emphasis on green construction, an architect/acoustician designed the first TDA for school usage; in this case the Phoenix School District. Funded by a grant from the predecessor of the Ford Foundation, the vision behind the TDA was to enable an auditorium to function as one large assembly area or several independent spaces when TDAs are rotated.

There was plenty of justification for the Foundation’s interest. Studies at the time showed that the typical school static auditorium was used only 10 percent of the time. That translated into inefficiency and excessive costs in construction, equipment and ongoing utility bills, none of which a school district could afford — as much a truism in the 1960s as it is nearly a half-century later. The goal of the TDA was and is to turn wasted space into usable, efficient and acoustically isolated classrooms, lecture halls and even smaller auditoriums.

The concept may not have been new, but it proved to be innovative in its utilization of a turntable to create everything from black box auditoriums to large concert halls to rooms where acoustic walls absorbed sound so simultaneous lectures did not interfere with each other.

TDAs for schools range from 29 seats to 355 seats and from one to four and occasionally more turntables per auditorium. Of special importance to school boards, architects and construction managers is that the TDA is designed to reduce construction and ongoing operational costs through creation of additional classroom space without having to build additional classrooms, always a cost-efficient benefit.

TDAs in Schools
The TDA experience of two school systems in Ohio and Georgia illustrate their benefits. Northmont City Schools in Englewood, near Dayton, Ohio, can convert its high school auditorium into a concert hall center for either school or public cultural events, or into a small auditorium and two 192-seat lecture halls. George Caras, high school principal, said the facility was the best response to alleviate crowding at the 1,800-student high school.

“It’s a building that needs all the space it can get during school hours so to offer that dual (classroom) space with no additional cost is huge for us,” Caras explained. The principal said the TDA has substantially reduced the building’s energy bills because, “I don’t need to use that amount of auditorium for a small group of students.”

“You only have to heat or cool the space you’re using,” Caras said.

Clayton County Schools, Jonesboro, Ga., operates a performing arts center for use of its students as well as the general public. At the rear of the 1,800-seat high school auditorium are two turntables that convert a portion of the center into a theater and a recital hall: one that is 58 feet in diameter containing 350 seats, and the second, 52 feet diametrically, for 250 seats. Between the public and the school district, there is little or no downtime for this facility. According to the board of education, the center averages between 400 and 500 events per year and is “utilized on average of 325 days each year.” A static auditorium is unlikely to duplicate that figure and the school board is understandably proud of it. “Indeed, the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center is the center of Clayton County’s artistic activity,” proclaims the school district’s Website.

Both districts report that their TDAs require very low maintenance. “We almost take them for granted,” Caras said.

What about costs and return on investment? An architectural study for a TDA facility for Kentlake High School, Kentlake, Wash., offers some answers. The study found that a TDA for the high school as opposed to a single use auditorium requires less overall square footage resulting in six percent savings in lower construction costs. The study also determined that the school system would achieve more significant savings because of lower heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs than it would have faced with the static auditorium. Kentlake Senior High School built its TDA to allow for three divisible teaching stations along with its performing arts capabilities.

In many cases, schools with TDAs have developed a revenue stream by charging for public use allowing for more positive ROI figures. Northmont’s Caras said there is no shortage of groups anxious to take advantage of the high school’s TDA capabilities.

“We have outside groups using our facility all the time and, of course, there’s a charge for it,” Caras said.

It should be noted that costs per seat with a TDA may increase but building costs will still be lower than a single-use auditorium because of reduced space. Incremental costs to build single use facilities equivalent to the space created by the TDAs may range from eight percent to 12 percent of the project — clearly significant expenditures that school systems would rather not incur.

TDAs and Going Green
The impact of TDAs on green construction cannot be overlooked. Less space required for this type of facility means a lower building footprint with more land available for other uses such as parking or athletic fields. Coupled with lower HVAC costs over the life of the building, and more efficient electrical use, the environmental assets of TDAs is another asset in their favor over single use facilities.

School administrators and developers acknowledge the necessity of designing structures that allow for maximum use of all building space. “A lecture hall or auditorium that is used only once or twice a month is not sufficient,” said Sue Robertson, president of Planning Alliance, Raleigh, N.C., which assists school districts with facility plans. The growing emphasis on green building for any new or remodeled construction corroborates her point. A static auditorium is a drain on a budget that needs to be resolved.

The experience of a number of schools with multi-use auditoriums, particularly those created by TDAs, shows that such facilities provide value in the most critical areas — cost reduction, facility usage and environment. While their flexible capabilities from concert auditorium to lecture halls to meeting rooms make TDAs a vital school resource, their capacity to provide an optimal environment for student learning and performance through the efficient use of building space may well prove to be indispensable.

Jack Shepherd is the architectural turntable product manager for Macton in Oxford, Conn. He can be reached at 203/267-1500 or [email protected]