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Live Christian entertainment made a quantum leap in 1998, with Sight & Sound Theatre’s construction of the Millennium Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The original theatre, built 10 years earlier, was lost to a fire. When Sight & Sounds rebuilt, they did it to accommodate a larger crowd and grander performances.
The 330,000 square-foot Millennium Theatre, and its sister facility in Branson, Missouri, are known for their awe-inspiring live performances of well-known biblical stories, including Jonah, Queen Esther, Samson, Jesus and Noah’s Ark.
People from around the globe travel to the Sight & Sound theatres of truly one-of-a-kind biblical experience, including many live animals, a 30-foot whale suspended over the theatre’s seating (in Jonah), and a cast and crew of 70.
“Sight & Sound Theatres brings the Bible to life through who we are and what we do,” says Joshua Enck, president and chief creative officer. “Our mission is to move people’s hearts toward truth through the power of story.”
Sight & Sound gained popularity quickly after its inception in 1990. The Millennium theatre was built in Lancaster for vastly expanded seating, accommodating nearly 2,050.
There’s even set manufacturing space: Almost every physical component of a performance is built on sight. The facility is equipped with massive CNC machines to create forms, a paint shop, metal fabrication, woodworking facilities and more. Storage of giant props and set pieces for the revolving shows was also a major need.
It’s in these spaces, where the Sight and Sound crew creates the onstage magic, that managers needed mechanical improvements to make operations run more smoothly.
“Two adjacent set manufacturing and storage wings of the theatre created a long, narrow courtyard of sorts, through which people and material must pass,” says Will Downing, facilities and risk manager. “The sun never hits the concrete pad between the buildings, and snow was very hard to remove. We battled it for years, and eventually the concrete started crumbling from the amount of salt needed to provide safe passage. So, we decided to install a large snowmelt system and put the project out to bid.”
Seth Energy, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based division of Shipley Energy, was hired to install rooftop units at the theatre in recent years and was asked to bid the 3,200 square-foot snowmelt job.
The company’s small, but highly experienced crew was no stranger to snowmelt applications.
“When we formed Seth Energy, we had the unique advantage of hand-selecting the best heating professionals,” says General Manager Seth Obetz. “Aside from our apprentice, everyone on the road has at least 15 years under their belt.”
The company has 12 installers and techs and four fuel trucks distributing LP and fuel oil to South-central Pennsylvania.
When the project was in design phase, Obetz and Erich Maurer, sales manager, enlisted the help of our rep firm ROI Marketing, based in Millersville, Maryland. I provided design assistance on both the tubing layout and boiler system. Hajoca’s York, Pennsylvania, location supplied material and further support.
The system consists of two, stainless steel 285 MBH Alpine condensing boilers by U.S. Boiler Co., 7,200 lineal lineal feet of 5/8-inch oxygen-barrier PEX in 24 loops, a tekmar 680 snowmelt control and an Axiom glycol feeder. In it, is a mixture of three parts Cryo-Tek glycol to two parts water.
“We stacked the boilers one on top of the other to save space in the mechanical room,” says Lew Kuhn, who, along with Jeff Flanagan, headed up the installation. “The boilers are 95 percent efficient, and fire in lead-lag configuration. A simple Cat-5 cable from one boiler to the next allows the units to communicate.”
The Alpine’s Sage 2.3 controls make multiple-boiler installation simple. As many as eight units can be installed in series. The boiler is available in sizes from 80 to 399 MBH, with four commercial models between 500 and 800 MBH.
The PEX was installed over a three day period, and concrete was poured on the fourth. A tekmar 090 in-slab sensor was installed. After installation, the tubing was tested with nitrogen at 30 PSI.
“The system lies dormant until the outdoor ambient temp falls to 35 degrees,” Kuhn explains. “At this point, if the tekmar slab sensor detects moisture, the system will turn on, supplying 116-degree water to the loops. There’s also a ‘storm mode’ that can be manually activated ahead of a weather event, in which the system will bring the slab up to temperature proactively. Tekmar makes a great line of products specifically geared towards snow and ice melt. They were a perfect fit for what we wanted and needed to achieve with this install.”
Meanwhile, Maurer adds that keeping the loops under 300 feet on a 180-foot long slab was a challenge.
“If they go over 300 feet, the water will lose the heat needed to melt the snow and ice,” Maurer says. “Keeping loops under 300 feet meant the use of many loops, and having them all come back to one place was very challenging. We navigated this by having a full layout before we started installing. And because all the loops aren’t exactly the same length, pressure is balanced via the manifold.”
The snowmelt system has now performed flawlessly over two winters. Sight & Sound no longer wastes time moving snow and spreading salt. Moving material from one building to another is much easier, and the injury avoidance is a benefit of snowmelt that’s hard to quantify. The organization is considering installation of snowmelt in all of the theatre’s entrance walkways.
“I think this project helps illustrate who we are as a company,” Obetz says. “Yes, we are a fuel company, but our focus is serving heating and cooling customers with installation and service. Our team really sees the value in our heating and cooling techs as being able to create loyalty with customers. Anyone can sell a gallon of fuel, but people trust the technicians who serve them well.”
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