SANTA ROSA — Wells Fargo Center for the Arts north of Santa Rosa has undergone two significant projects in the past year, led by a renovation of the Ruth Finley Person Theater and an array of solar-electricity panels that double as carports for the center’s patrons.
The theater was completely renovated at a cost of $3 million in only 13 weeks using 125 workers from eight trade unions and 29 contractors.
The reason for the aggressive schedule was to minimize the effects on patrons. With this goal in view, contractors from throughout the Bay Area were united in the goal of making the changes happen on time and within budget.
ELS Architecture and Urban Design were responsible for the overall renovation design, and Shook and Waller was the general contractor.
The project was made possible by a small group of dedicated contributors who showed their commitment to preserving and enhancing the Arts in the North Bay by making a number of improvements to the theater, originally built in the 1970s when the building was known as the Christian Life Center.
One of the key improvements involved increasing accessibility for patrons and artists alike, including making all backstage dressing rooms and restrooms ADA compliant with the installation of ADA platforms in back of the theater and additional ADA seating in the auditorium, installing a new access ramp to the theater and an upgraded Assisted Listening Device system.
The audience experience was enhanced by removing on-stage barriers, raising the stage by four inches and by reshaping the balcony overhang to dramatically improve sightlines from all seats in the theater.
New lighting and sound equipment was installed and acoustical treatments were added throughout the theater resulting in a clearer, crisper sound.
All seats on the main floor were replaced and balcony seating was refurbished. Main floor seats were installed on a beam system for easier removal, creating a flexible space that can accommodate an open, general admission floor combined with reserved seating in the balcony.
This flexibility will allow the Center to expand its programming, welcome hitherto underserved segments of the population and bring new types of arts and entertainment performances to the community.
The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts is only the second venue in the U.S. to install this flexible seating system – the first being the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The Center’s performance and technical capabilities were also improved by adding approximately 300 square feet of performance space, raising the ceiling above the stage by 10 feet — to allow for more complex sets and technical elements — and by installing the Center’s first ever backstage loading doors.
These doors allow crews to bring props, sets and equipment directly to the stage, rather than through the lobby.
Backstage facilities were upgraded with a new star dressing room featuring an en suite bathroom, embellished hospitality facilities and the creation of a new 700 square feet suite of production offices and other dressing rooms.
The number of air vents and registers in the HVAC distribution system was increased to improve comfort and safety. New ceiling diffusers were added to reduce the force of blowing air.
An entirely new fire detection system was installed throughout the building and a sprinkler system was added in the theater.
The Ruth Finley Person Theater was reopened on August 16, 2013 with a performance by Grammy Hall of Fame singer Patti LaBelle, followed by a free community concert featuring the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West on August 25.
Solar carports offset 90 percent of energy use
In addition to renovating the Ruth Finley Person Theater, 1,630 solar PV panels were installed on carports in the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts north parking area. This system is expected to offset 90 percent of the Center’s energy use.
This project involved four local enterprises, including: Nelson Solar Projects, LLC, One Sun, Inc. and Enphase Energy along with the Wells Fargo Center. These firms pooled their resources to create one of the community’s most distinctive examples of renewable energy success.
The Center’s goal of becoming energy sustainable, while increasing profitability, was realized with the support of a forward thinking benefactor, Gary Nelson and his wife Marcia, of Nelson Solar Projects, LLC.
The system was built by One Sun, Inc., on four rows of concrete and steel sunshade carport structures in the Center’s northwest parking lot.
It is anticipated that this solar project will result in up to $100,000 in energy cost savings per year, while also reducing the Center’s annual carbon footprint by 333 metric tons.
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