Acoustical improvements will enhance performances at MV Community Center
By Marcy Stamper
Audience members at the Pipestone Orchestra concert this weekend can expect richer and more resonant music, thanks to 23 acoustical panels and 85 fabric acoustic baffles just installed in the Methow Valley Community Center gym.
Although the original purpose of the gym is still proclaimed by a basketball hoop and the Twisp Yello-Jackets logo on the floor, the improved acoustics allow the space to function for concerts and community gatherings as well as athletic events.
Through a $30,000 grant from the Moccasin Lake Foundation and hours of professional and volunteer labor, sound waves and frequencies in the gym will be better managed, according to Gary Ryan, an acoustical engineer and systems designer with Halo Systems, who designed the acoustical improvements.
Ryan, a percussionist and lifelong audiophile who’s based in the Methow — although he does acoustical projects around the country — said most of Halo’s projects optimize acoustics in concert halls and spaces already designed for music.
“Occasionally, we are presented with the challenge of trying to optimize the acoustics in a multi-purpose space like the [community center] gym where a mix of instrumental and vocal performances, drama, roller skating, soccer, basketball, book sales, fashion shows and many other things occur — all in a the confines of a space with concrete walls, hardwood floors and plenty of glass/windows,” said Ryan by email.
As such, the gym project was “not an acoustician’s dream scenario,” said Ryan. He used different panels to capture the frequencies that travel along the ceiling and to lessen reverberation that can occur when many conversations are going on at the same time — all without over-dampening the room.
Revamping the 4,000-square-foot space to improve the environment for concerts and community gatherings has been a goal for five years, said Kirsten Ostlie, manager of the center.
“It sometimes sounds great with a roomful of people, but not Christmas bazaars and memorials,” which could be so loud that you couldn’t hear the person next to you, said Ostlie.
The initial estimate for a complete acoustical retrofit came to more than $60,000, but Halo Systems was able to scale back the design to achieve much of the desired result for half the money, said Ostlie.
Curtis Edwards, who worked with the Better Space committee to improve the gym, hung most of the panels himself. Edwards, who used to play with a rock band and did sound for community theater, said he was familiar with the gym’s acoustical challenges. “It’s an incredibly tough room, especially for louder music, which turned into mush or cacophony,” he said.
Behind each birch panel is a fabric pillow, with one side to absorb sound and one to reflect it, said Edwards. In addition, there are cloth panels hanging from the ceiling and mounted on the walls for additional absorption.
The acoustical panels are the first part of a three-phase project envisioned by the community center board and Better Space committee. They hope to install a high-quality speaker system that would enable groups using live or recorded music to simply plug in without having to bring a lot of their own equipment, said Ostlie.
After the building closed as a school in 1973, it was boarded up and neglected for five years until local residents revived it as a community center. The gym has received both aesthetic and practical improvements in the past decade. It’s been repainted and gotten new windows (the old ones had been boarded up for 40 years) and curtains, said Ostlie.
The acoustical panels were designed to take a basketball hit, but they would not have withstood the impact of a soccer ball, so those games have been relocated to Methow Valley Elementary School, said Ostlie.
Edwards tried out his acoustic guitar in the gym last week. “It was very nice, with a little echo and liveliness. The sound seemed even around the room,” he said.
Pam Hunt, whose string students held a recital in the gym before even all the acoustical panels had been installed, said the sound quality was already much improved.
Hunt also spent time in the gym practicing her cello for the concerto she will perform with the Pipestone Orchestra on Saturday. “I felt I could hear what was going on around me, but the sound didn’t get whooshed away,” she said. “It used to be big and muddy — I couldn’t hear myself. But now I could relax. My pianos [the quiet parts] were really soft.”