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New Waldorf School auditorium resonates with sounds of students

The Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork’s new community hall building is an unexpected “Wow” kind of place.The building towers over the existing one-story school. Both are straw bale structures. The exterior is plain, finished with tan stucco and trapezoid windows along a slightly slanted roof that sort of humps up on the Highway 82 end.Motorists see the school, along the Highway 82 frontage road, between Catherine Store and El Jebel.The first hint of what’s inside comes at the east doors, which are hand-carved mahogany with an etched glass landscape window above the doors.Visitors coming through those doors first enter the 60-foot-long sun room, with its adobe-style walls and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s a custom-made kitchenette with a blonde wooden counter at the opposite end of the room. In the center, on the north wall separating the sun room from the auditorium, are a pair of double doors with thick trim and pewter-colored handles.Duck through those doors and the auditorium opens up like a brightly lit cavern, with lots of light colored wood, and a 26-foot roof-support arch that matches the stage’s maroon curtain.Wood covers almost every surface: the floors, the wainscot, and the acoustical slats that extend from the wainscot to the pitched ceiling, which is made of birch plywood.The moveable seats are plush maroon, and the back row is slightly higher than the others, like directors’ chairs.As good as the auditorium looks, it sounds even better.”The room is multi-purpose, but geared toward a first-grader speaking on stage, without any amplification,” said project architect Jeff Dickinson.Dickinson, whose daughter, Sadie, is a first-grader there, said there are a couple of reasons the school goes without a PA system and amplifiers.”It’s about the way you hear and perceive the human voice. It’s more clear and real when it’s not amplified,” Dickinson said. “And if they (students) have microphones, they don’t have to learn to project their voice. They are trained to speak and be heard.”At a dress rehearsal Thursday for this week’s premiere performance, students singing a Japanese folk song on stage were clearly heard at the back of the room, as was the high pitched “plink, plink, plink” of a wood block used for accompaniment.After the final notes faded, Waldorf school board member Barbi Sheffer rushed upstairs, gave Dickinson a high-five hand slap, and shouted, “Did you hear that? It’s incredible. Way to go.”Building great acoustics into the auditorium required the help of the Denver-based David L. Adams & Associates. The firm loaded the basic auditorium design onto its computers, put a hypothetical first-grader on stage, then looked at such things as surface areas, reverb time and reflected patterns.Design committee member Doug Sheffer said different elements work together to “reflect, absorb and disperse” the sounds.Dickinson added, “You want the sound to come from a lot of directions.”Getting those sounds to bounce back and forth in numerous directions is accomplished several ways. The most obvious means are the three wooden “clouds” that hover over the stage. Dickinson said the clouds are pitched at 15, 20 and 25 degrees to reflect sound out to the audience.Another element is just as visible but not as obvious. Vertical wall slats, spaced a half-inch apart and backed by maroon-colored sound board, circle the room and front the stage. The slats are about three inches wide and eight feet high.”The sound hits the slats and splays out,” Dickinson explained.To wring every last decibel from the room, the slats have rounded edges to further redirect sound waves.The entire building covers 11,000 square feet.It includes an upstairs mezzanine with a lighting booth, small balconies on each side, offices, a conference room, and even a built-in bed for members of the Carbondale Napping Society.The 1,700-square-foot auditorium sits in the center of the building, flanked horseshoe-style by halls and rooms on the east and west sides, and the sun room on the south. The straw-bale building, with 18-inch walls, is only about 100 feet from the Highway 82 frontage road, but none of those road noises make it inside.The stage, at 1,600 square feet, is the same size as the adjoining eurythmy room where students practice motion exercises. The stage’s back wall can be opened or closed depending on needs.Dickinson said the architectural style relates to the human form. “We feel more comfortable in a space whose forms relate to our bodies,” he said.With this approach, there aren’t many right angles. For example, the door frames are not square. The top corners are beveled at a 60-degree angle.”People aren’t square,” Dickinson said.Another example of rounding off corners is found where the east and west halls lead into the sun room. Rather than have the sun-room wall intersect the hall walls at 90-degree angles, the corner is angled, rather than square. That helps people flow in and out of the rooms more easily.Rather than make the auditorium a rectangle or square, there are two jogs in the east and west walls, which also helps with acoustics.The interior walls also have a softness to them, and round themselves into the windows rather than meeting in hard edges.The combined effect creates a comfortable, relaxed building that visitors look forward to returning to. The relaxing will be even better when couches and chairs are added to the 1,100-square-foot sun room, whose doors open to a big patio to the south.With the 18-inch walls, the sun room window sills are perfect for sitting. “We’re going to put some cushions on them,” Dickinson said.Although Dickinson’s name is on the bottom line as the architect, he worked closely with the school’s design committee, which included Sheffer and Bob Schultz.When asked how he feels about the building, he said, “Great. We’re all pinching each other saying `Yea, we did it.'”Numerous local crafts- and tradespeople worked on the building, including: Mary Lynn Munro, who created the etched glass window above the east door and a stained-glass window that faces Highway 82; Bob Johnson, who carved the east door; Geoff Legg, who was in charge of painting; and finish carpenter Randal Morris. Chuck Cole was the general contractor.The school will hold an open house for the public on April 6. More information will be released later. It’s located between Carbondale and El Jebel.


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