By Randy Gaddo
When patrons go to their local parks and rec indoor-performance venue to see a play, a band, or any other performance, they are focused on having a good time; they want clear sound and acoustics, good visual appeal, comfortable seating, and clean, well-maintained facilities.
Most people probably don’t think twice about how well the venue is being maintained, nor should they! That’s the job of the maintenance professionals.
It is fair to say that care and maintenance of any parks and rec department facilities and venues should be equally important; however, indoor-performance venues and the patrons who use them may require a slightly higher level of attention.
Patrons at the Northwest Music Hall in Everett, Wash., have expectations when they enter the unique facility. The multipurpose venue hosts a range of events from corporate gatherings and banquets to fashion shows and concerts.
“We are the nearest large city to Seattle, but we are not in a metropolitan area,” says Vasheti Quiros, Executive Director of Snohomish County Music Project (SCMP), a non-profit organization that operates the music hall for the benefit of the community.
The 11,800-square-foot music hall (including an upstairs and a lobby area) was formerly a movie theater that was closed nearly 15 years before it was taken over by the SCMP. Though Quiros wasn’t there at that time, she has heard the stories. “It was a mess,” she says. “When the theater was closed, it hadn’t been cleaned up properly, and over the span of years it was closed, birds had taken up residence. It took about 10 months to get it minimally ready to open.”
There are three programming areas, each in a separate theater pod. One pod is for a music-therapy program, and the other multipurpose areas are available for rentals. One is the “Concert Hall,” which can accommodate between 280 and 400 guests, depending on how it is set up. It has a 24- by 12-foot stage, risers, and basic sound, lighting, and video systems. The other is the “Music Room,” a 200-seat venue with a 12- by 8-foot stage and basic sound, lighting, and video systems.
There is also a small food prep/staging room with a refrigerator, sink, counter space, and storage.
With a small paid staff, including Quiros and a part-time program manager who doubles on maintenance, and heavily depending on volunteer labor, maintaining the music hall is a constant challenge. Funding for maintenance comes primarily from rental revenue, occasional grants, and donations.
“Our biggest maintenance problem right now is our 20-year-old HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) units,” says Quiros. “They are eight, large commercial units. Only three of the eight are working. We had roof leaks around one of the units, so we had to tarp that one off. If one of those three stops working, we are going to be in trouble.” At an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 each, replacing the units is a major task for the non-profit.
“We have two very dedicated volunteers who constantly help with basic cleaning and custodial work, and we bring in other volunteers as needed,” Quiros notes. “We also pay a janitorial service to come in once every two weeks to clean the floors in the rental spaces, the bathrooms, and the windows, since the entire front of the facility is glass.”
Audiences will be tolerant of little things, such as the floors not being totally clean, but nothing will upset patrons more than the HVAC not working. “Our audiences and performers are great, and once they get here, they are really impressed with the facility,” says Quiros. “It is really a beautiful and unique venue.”
While the venue does maintain a basic sound, light, and video system available in the rental package, renters who want more capable systems are responsible for obtaining it themselves. That is clearly stated in the agreement, and the technical specs are listed on the website (www.nwmusichall.org). However, there is an occasional glitch.
“We recently had a group fly in from Japan, and when they got here they realized the sound and lighting systems were not what they needed, so they had to go out and rent the type of system they needed,” explains Quiros.
While the non-profit provides an important service for the surrounding community, the group still does not receive any support or funding from local governments. “We are located outside the city limits of Everett, in the unincorporated county, so we do not directly interact with them. We try to use the facility to support local musicians, but that doesn’t always help pay for repairs and maintenance.”
Quiros says she did try to obtain a grant for maintenance work from the county, but was denied. She adds that she and her board of directors are discussing their rates and discounts, and they might have to make some adjustments in order to continue in that location.
Maintenance In Music City
Rick Taylor has challenges, but not anywhere near those that Quiros faces. Taylor is the Assistant Parks Director of Maintenance for the Nashville, Tenn., Parks and Recreation Department.
With a staff of 170 maintenance workers experienced in all of the trades, such as HVAC, plumbing, roofing, paving, and mechanical systems, he has a deep bench to draw from.
For example, he says the department recently replaced a 5-ton HVAC unit on the roof of one of the indoor-performance venues. “We brought in the crane to take the old unit out and lift the new unit in,” he says, adding that he has on-staff HVAC technicians to do that type of work. If there is work they can’t do, he brings in outside contractors.
A $20-million maintenance budget is almost adequate as well; however, he needs it (and more, he says) to get the job done. With 16,000 acres of property and some 60 indoor facilities, it takes significant funding and staffing to keep the patrons happy.
“From a customer-service perspective, I see our job in maintenance as satisfying our customers from the operations side,” says Taylor. “Their job is to satisfy their customers, the citizens and visitors who use the facilities. If we aren’t doing our job of maintaining the facilities, it adversely affects the operations staff’s ability to do their job. We support them so they can stay in the business of serving the public.”
Being in “Music City,” many of Taylor’s areas of responsibility are premier music and performance venues, such as the Black Box Theater inside the Centennial Performing Arts Studio. The Black Box was designed to accommodate smaller productions with intimate audiences. The simple 10-foot by 20-foot stage can accommodate a broad range of performances, from music to small-cast theatrical productions. Eventually, the space will be home to Parks' Cultural Arts-generated events and programming, as well as being a space that showcases works from partner organizations.
Taylor notes that caring for indoor-performance venues is an important part of his job; however, he doesn’t consider the venues a major draw on his resources. “We actually have a special-events crew who help with set up, take down, and other logistical and maintenance assistance at the venues,” he says. With more than 700 recreation-generated events annually, that crew is kept busy. “They do other things as well, but their territory isn’t as large, so if we get a job order for one of the venues, that becomes their priority.”
Landscaping and turf care at the venues is also one of Taylor’s responsibilities. His crews mow about 4,000 acres per month across all of the parks, including performance venues. “We have a crew of 20 just for landscaping,” he says.
Taylor notes that caring for the venues and all of the other Nashville parks and rec facilities is a city-wide effort.
“Nashville is a different city from even just five or six years ago,” notes Taylor. “We’re looking at a lot of growth and lots of people coming here to see the city. We have the CMA (Country Music Association) Fest, a four-day music festival and lots of folks come here for that. So our parks and venues are always in high demand and very visible to the public.”
Whether it’s a small community venue like the Northwest Music Hall hosting local events or the high-visibility performance venues in Music City, properly maintaining the space is a critical element in attracting patrons and keeping them coming back for more. The best performers in the world will not bring people in if the facility is sub-par; and performers won’t want to come if they can’t get audiences.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Bay Minette, Ala.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email email@example.com.