Designing a high-definition high school TV production studio

The challenge of designing and building the new TV production studio required much coordination and communication.
The challenge of designing and building the new TV production studio required much coordination and communication.

When Minnesota School District 112 decided to build a new high school, it offered Dan Pelowski, instructional technology coordinator for the district’s secondary schools, a rare opportunity to design a high-definition TV production studio from the ground up.

“I had been managing the TV production studio at the old high school and jumped at the chance to design and build a TV production studio in the new high school using the latest in high definition technology,” said Pelowski.

ISD 112 covers the growing western Minneapolis suburbs of Chaska and Chanhassen. When the Chaska High School started becoming overcrowded, the district approved the construction of a new high school– Chanhassen High School–in 2006.

The challenge of designing and building the new TV production studio required a lot of coordination and communication, Pelowski said. “I formed a team that included myself and high school instructional technology coordinators Chuck Nelson and Jason Pelowski.

“We started the concept planning by interviewing other instructors and students about what they liked and didn’t like about the studio at the old high school. The comments from the students were helpful since these were the students who had taken multiple classes and plan to make a career in this field.”

Pelowski said it was important to work with the architect early on in the process to ensure that room size and other factors were adequately attended to.

The next step for the planning team was to visit several other high schools that had recently installed TV production studios to see the equipment and systems they were using. “Besides visiting other high schools, we consulted with Todd Johnson at Alpha Video in Edina, Minn. to get an update on the technology. Alpha Video had installed the production studio in the old high school in 1996. At this point, we also started working closely with Wayne Buse at Hallberg Engineering in White Bear Lake, MN,” Pelowski said.

Hallberg Engineering served as the technology and communications consultant on the project and Wayne Buse was the AV consultant.

“Our concept planning was identifying the number of cameras and other components we needed, but Todd and Wayne were able to specify the vendor and model numbers for the components,” Pelowski added.

Commenting on his work with Chanhassen High school, Wayne Buse, now with Northland Technology Consulting in Minneapolis, said: “The process starts with sitting down with the stakeholders and finding out what they want to do with the space. We reviewed the physical dimensions and the workflow planned for the available space. The next thing is to discuss how they want to do TV distribution throughout the building, which is a big issue now for high schools. Then the discussion quickly gets to equipment selection versus the available budget. Budget constraints are always an important issue with high schools.”

Buse continued: “I developed a general description of the systems for the production studio and then working with Todd from Alpha, other integrators and several relevant manufacturers, we specified the components to make up the systems. In most cases, when we specified a specific model number, we allowed ‘or pre-approved equivalent’ products to be bid. This helps to keep the cost down because we’re not specifying sole source products. Any alternative equipment substitution proposed by integrators was subject to technical review by the consultant to ensure that the proposed substitutions do not violate the design intent of the system.  ”

Alpha Video won the bid for the production studio and installation started in early 2009. Installation was completed by the fall of 2009 when the new school opened.

The major components of the installed systems include:

(2) Canon XH GH1 HD Camcorder
(1) Canon XH A1S Camcorder
(2) Apple Mac Pro with Virtual VTR software
(1)Broadcast Pix Production Switcher
(2) Autoscript 12” TFT teleprompters
(1) 46” Sharp LCD monitor
(1) 32” Viewsonic LDC display
(5) 22” Viewsonic LCD monitors
(2) JVC DVD/VHS combo recorder
(2) Varizoom 7” 19×9 monitors
(10) Canon VIXIA HF200

Audio components include four Tannoy Reveal Studio speakers, an Aphex 120A audio amplifier, a Telex RTS MS-2002 master station, Sony lapel mics, and Sennheiser wireless mics.

Pelowski noted: “We are extremely pleased with the systems and workflow in our new studio. The studio is spacious enough so that two sets of students can be setting up for two separate productions. One set uses the fixed camera and one set uses the portable camera. Of course they can’t both record at the same time, but it keeps more students engaged as they practice and set-up for their production time.”

“The most important benefit to the new HD TV production studio is that the students are learning real production skills that will qualify them for jobs when they leave high school or college,” Pelowski said.

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