Many schools are discovering the enormous benefits state-of-the-art lighting technology brings to school halls. Experienced theatre lighting designer and product specialist at Apex Pro, Mathew Lewis shares some pointers for school management teams looking to upgrade their lighting rigs.

The traditional school environment may have changed a lot over the years, especially with the introduction of digital technology in the classroom. However, there are few schools that function optimally without a school hall.

The hall is where new learners meet their teachers and peers for the first time on that nervous first day of school. It is where children are recognised for their achievements throughout their schooling careers and where they will write their most important exams. It is where pupils and staff gather to cement their identity as a cohesive community – developing relationships that often last a lifetime. In schools with performing arts programmes, the school hall often serves as the first stage upon which children have the opportunity to perform, and where they attend school socials. In short, the school hall serves as the heart and soul of school life.

Modern lighting technology has the potential to transform a school hall into a dynamic and highly engaging space for academic purposes, awards evenings, and professional-level performances. In the past, professional-grade stage lighting was expensive to run and maintain, and often difficult and dangerous for children to operate. Fortunately, with the emergence of LED technology and networked control, modern lighting rigs offer a wide range of functionality, while being affordable, user-friendly and economical to run.

Lighting designer Mathew Lewis of Apex Pro, a leading distributor of stage lighting solutions in South Africa, points out five key points that school management teams should take into account before investing in new lighting technology for their school halls.

1. PLAN YOUR PROJECT

Every school is different and, therefore, your school hall should be custom-designed to meet your specific needs. The first step that you should take before purchasing any equipment is a clear and detailed needs analysis so that you are in the best position possible to make informed decisions.

Important questions to ask before investing in a new lighting rig for your school hall:

  • What do you use the school hall for most often?
  • What are the most important events that you hold in your hall?
  • What is the current condition of your staging infrastructure?
  • What does the existing lighting rig cost to run and maintain?
  • Who will be operating the rig?
  • How much support will you need to run and maintain your rig?
  • What are you willing to spend?

You need to know exactly what you want to achieve, what you will need to achieve it, the level of support that you will need, and how much you are willing to spend so that you can provide a clear and concise project brief to prospective service providers.

2. CONSIDER YOUR COSTS

Your school’s lighting rig should be considered a long-term investment in your school’s infrastructure. As such, one should investigate the total cost of ownership of your rig over the life cycle of the technology, rather than deciding your budget based on the initial capital cost of the installation.

Traditional halogen-based stage lighting uses bulbs that take a lot of power to run and are expensive to replace, which has a direct impact on your running costs. While investing in newer LED-based technology is guaranteed to have a positive impact on the running costs of your lighting rig, it is critical that you analyse the total cost of ownership of the new rig that you choose to maximise on the potential benefits.

3. INFRASTRUCTURE FIRST

When considering what to prioritise when installing a new lighting rig, it is generally considered wiser to invest in the highest-quality staging infrastructure that you can afford, such as lighting bars, electrical infrastructure and networking points. Once you have the infrastructure in place, you can run a standard lighting scheme for day-to-day operations, using high-quality static lighting fixtures that are relatively affordable, and hire in professional-level moving head stage lighting for your school productions when needed.

Investing in infrastructure also means investing in safety, which is of paramount importance when children will be using the stage. Many traditional rigs require technicians to climb ladders to manually change colour gels in front of lighting fixtures for production lighting. It is never desirable to have school staff or children working at height, because of the obvious dangers involved. Modern LED stage lighting fixtures are controlled digitally from a console positioned in the auditorium or at front of house eliminating the need to have staff or children climbing up into the rig.

4. FIND THE RIGHT PARTNERS

Investing in new technology always comes with a certain amount of risk, especially when the technology is of a highly specialised nature. How do you know that you are getting a good deal? How can you be sure that you will be able to operate the rig once it is in place? What do you do if something goes wrong and you can’t fix it?

The most effective way to mitigate these risks is to establish a good working relationship with a reputable and certified service provider.

What to look for in a service provider for your lighting rig

  • Find out if the service provider is certified to install the equipment that they are specifying
  • Make sure that the service provider is using equipment that comes with a solid manufacturer’s warranty
  • Find out what turn-around times are and if warranty repairs are carried out locally
  • Get first-hand references from other organisations that have used the company to deliver on similar projects
  •  Get a clear understanding of the company’s after-sales support services including on-going training

5. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

Once you have committed to installing a modern lighting rig for your school hall, it is important that you are in a position to get the maximum  use of your investment over the long run. Many entertainment technology service providers offer service-level agreements as a part of their product offerings. The benefit of these types of agreements includes on-going training for the staff and learners who will be operating your rig, as well as on-going maintenance and repairs on all of the installed technology. You also have the benefit of being able to call on a trusted partner if you have a problem with your rig, especially at critical times such as during school productions or important events at your school.