We have all been hit hard by the pandemic in one way or another. For us at CAST, not only have our shows been cancelled, but we have missed our communities coming together, the excitement of putting on shows and the thrill of working as a team to create productions that our audiences love.
During lockdown, it became clear to us that if we wanted to re-open our theatre and tread the boards as soon as possible, a new ventilation system that would keep our air clean and our audiences safe, not to mention conform to new legal codes, was essential. With finances being tight due to lack of income, we are grateful that one of our members, the ECC, was able to lend us the money (interest-free) needed to install spanking new system to be performance ready as soon as it was safe.
The system was installed in February 2022 and we were able to open the Studio for its first performance since 2019 with the Production of "After September" by Jimmie Chin, performed by the ECC themselves.
Our new ventilation system cost 35,000 euros to purchase and get installed, a big price tag. To give you more information about the technical side and the advantages of our wonderful new HVAC system, I asked our Project Manager, Simon Smith, to fill us all in. This is what he said:
As you know, in my role of project manager of the HVAC system in the studio complex, I am positively dripping with technical facts and figures concerning our new state-of-the-art ventilation / airco system. I will try to break it down but am always ready to answer more questions...
For the “techies”:
The system is capable of providing 1900 m3 of fresh air per hour, i.e. a complete refresh of all the air in the studio every 10 minutes or 9 litres of fresh air per person every second for a full house of 60 (try breathing that fast!)
The ventilation has an integrated CO2 sensor which gradually increases or reduces ventilation to keep CO2 concentration well below the 900ppm level for optimal comfort and Covid safety without being unnecessarily loud
The ventilation uses oversize air conduits and smooth bends to minimise air turbulence and any hissing noise; a high-performance silencer has been fitted next to the fan unit (which is housed outside the theatre room)
The air-conditioning is provided by a high-power (14kW cooling – or heating) reverse-cycle, split-system heat pump; to avoid overloading the electrical system of the theatre, this takes its power from our separate supply at the Warehouse
Via the environmental:
To conserve the energy expended in cooling or heating the theatre, the ventilation system has an integrated 94% efficient bi-directional heat exchanger between the fresh air coming in and the expelled exhaust air
The ventilation system is equipped with HEPA-level filters on the air intake and outlet; this will screen out ambient suspended dirt and bacteria
The high-volume / low-speed characteristic of the airflow means that the audience will receive fresh air without experiencing unhealthy drafts
The heat-pump technology used has a COP (Coefficient of Performance) of ~4 so that every kWh of electrical energy consumed produces 4kWh of cooling or heating
The heat-pump uses the latest, high-efficiency R32 refrigerant (di-fluoro methane) which has a weak greenhouse gas and zero ozone-depletion rating in case of escape
The relatively noisy airco condenser unit is placed in the cellar under the courtyard about 30m away from the theatre and the neighbouring apartments
To the funky:
The systems can be set to pre- or post-flush the air in the theatre either by timer or via remote control from an app
The toilets now have their own dedicated ventilation as does the bar area
Because of the filters and the high airflow rates, the audience will be breathing cleaner, safer air inside the theatre than standing on the street outside
The conduiting lends a certain “steam-punk” flavour to the theatre, but this is kept low-key by the mat-black paint finish
We selected our contractor based on a “restricted call” procurement procedure with “competitive dialogue”; 4 bidders submitted; we selected the best-value offer (which was also the cheapest)
In the course of the procurement, we have benchmarked a number of professional theatres in the Brussels area; none had a system of comparable specific capacity or sophistication to ours
Gone are the days of “sweat-box theatre”; on a warm summer day with the airco set to max, we can make ice-cubes on stage! (Ok, that last one’s rather fanciful)
Our first objective with the Play Your Part fundraiser is to pay for this wonderful new system. if anyone has any questions about this, or any other part of our Play Your Part investments, please feel free to reach out to us on email@example.com
CAST Is the Cooperative Association to Support Theatre. It's facilities, the Studio Theatre & Warehouse space are located at Rue Waelhem 73, 1030 Schaerbeek. We have been using these facilities for over 30 years and they are long overdue for necessary updates.