Stakes are High in $68M Renovation of Robinson Center

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 12:00 am  

And in that goal lies much of the complexity of the project. Robinson Center is a multipurpose venue. It must accommodate the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Broadway plays, Ballet Arkansas and commencement ceremonies — in addition to conventions and conferences — and each of these has different and sometimes even opposite technical requirements, particularly acoustical requirements.

That’s why CDI Contractors of Little Rock has partnered with Hunt Construction Group of Dallas to serve as general contractors and construction managers. Hunt Construction has experience with performing arts buildings, as does Polk Stanley’s partner, Polshek-now-Ennead, which led the restoration of New York’s Carnegie Hall.

The center closed to the public last month and demolition began after the July Fourth holiday.

Last week as workman clambered over scaffolding erected where once the orchestra seats had been and the deafening clang of construction forced conversation into the upper decibels, Porter described how the crew planned to remove the concrete floor and drop it 36 feet to the level of La Harpe Boulevard.

This creates more volume in the performance hall, which has had only about half the volume it needed to provide optimum acoustics for events like musical performances. But for “amplified performances,” like plays, a “dead room” is optimal, one that deadens sound. To accomplish that, almost 10,000 SF of movable sound-absorbing curtains will be installed above the performance hall.

“It’s sort of a tricky thing,” Porter said. “People who’ve gone to Robinson forever think they’ve had a fantastic experience. And they have. But for the shows that come here to play, it’s not as good as an experience for them. They would rank old Robinson very low compared to halls they’ve played elsewhere.”

“It’s one of those cases where we don’t know what we’re missing until we see something that’s really improved,” he said. “And that’s what’s going to happen from a performance standpoint.”

But removing the hall’s concrete floor presents another set of challenges: The floor currently serves to help brace the walls.

“Taking this floor out, which in some respects braces these sidewalls, is a tricky thing,” Porter said. Big steel columns will be dropped in along the existing columns of the sidewalls, columns that extend down to the ground and up to the roof, “so that there’s a tie structurally from top to bottom so that now you can take this concrete floor out.”

“It’s a tricky proposition just to do the demolition,” he said. “That’s another complexity over and above a normal demolition project.”

Five Goals

The Robinson Center renovation, which will take the building from 133,500 SF to 138,000 SF, includes much more than a rebuilt and improved performance hall.



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