Bravo: A spotlight on Performing Arts Projects

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As we wait for stages to light up again, we wanted to share how we’re helping shape the cultural arts in our communities.

Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL

The Steppenwolf ensemble first began performing in the mid-1970s in the basement of a Highland Park, IL church. Fast forward 40 years and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble has grown to 49 members of actors, directors and playwrights. The Steppenwolf is now in phase two of a $73 million campus expansion and we performed the geotechnical engineering services as part of the project.

The analysis included in-situ Pressuremeter testing to maximize the allowable soil bearing pressure and also provide for evaluation of the influence of new drilled shaft foundations on existing drilled shaft foundations. The new “Theater in the Round” included a deep excavation and underpinning was necessary to stabilize the existing structure. Our involvement continued with construction observation and testing for the installation of the drilled shaft foundations, some located less than two feet edge to edge to existing drilled shaft bells, underpinning, structural steel and reinforced concrete observation and testing.

ECS has also worked on cultural arts spaces in Chicago including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Modern Wing, Harris Music and Dance Theater and The Goodman Theater.

“ECS is proud to be part of the design construction teams for important cultural institutions such as Steppenwolf Theatre, a jumping off point for Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney and so many others,” says Brett Gitskin, PE, President of ECS Midwest, LLC.


Carolina Theatre, Charlotte, NC

Originally built in 1927, the Carolina Theatre is being restored to its original splendor. The 36,000-square-foot historic theatre was once a thriving vaudeville theatre and silent movie palace that hosted acts such as Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn and Elvis Presley. Construction is currently underway to restore the theatre and we provided forensic geotechnical engineering services.

“Carolina Theatre presented unique challenges because it was more than a traditional subsurface exploration,” says Trey Hendrick, PE, Geotechnical Group Manager. “It also included forensic geotechnical engineering. Due to the age of the structure and the lack of information, we had to expose the existing foundations and measure them. It was more than drilling holes and providing design recommendations. It was also looking back into history and deducing how they constructed the structure. It’s cool to say that we’re part of revitalizing the 100-year-old theatre and bring back the glory of the architectural features with modernized technology.”


National Theatre, Washington DC

“The National Theatre has never been just another theatre; it’s part of ourselves, a part of our history as a nation and a people. It is and always will be our stage for a nation.” – President Ronald Reagan

In 2017, ECS provided steel sampling for the National Theatre.

“I think that the project was interesting because you could see the old way of doing things versus the new,” says Craig Hendry, PE, Senior Project Engineer. “At the time of the sampling, the theater used pulleys, ropes, and counterweights from the catwalk to move props and sets, which was the way things have been done historically. The new work was being performed to upgrade to a motor system.”


Daily’s Place Amphitheater at TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, FL

The Daily’s Place Amphitheater is located adjacent and connected to the Jaguar’s Stadium (TIAA Field) and the project included the construction of an indoor Jacksonville Jaguars Training Facility (Flex-Field) adjoined to the Amphitheater. The amphitheater and flex field have a unique design consisting of steel trusses holding a PTFE fabric roof with the amphitheater consisting 60’x40′ concert stage with a main floor, mezzanine and balcony seating areas.

The Daily’s Place Amphitheater opened in 2017 with a 5,500 capacity as the second largest concert venue in Jacksonville.  Since its opening, the amphitheater has hosted concerts for several large national acts with plans to host 35-40 events per year.

We began the geotechnical exploration for the Daily’s Place Amphitheater in early 2016. A geotechnical challenge for the project was the presence of both shallow and deep organic soils. A deposit of deep organic soil at the eastern side of the amphitheater structure resulted in that portion of the amphitheater being supported on deep foundations (auger-cast piles) while shallow organic soils were over-excavated from the western side of the amphitheater footprint.

We also provided construction inspection services for the City of Jacksonville including steel fabrication and coating testing and inspection services, which required fulltime inspection of the steel fabrication at various manufacturing locations throughout the country. Due to the required fast-paced schedule to complete the project before the NFL season, up to four coating and fabrications facilities were operating at the same time for 24 hours per day and 6 days a week at Lynchburg, Virginia, and Orlando and Lakeland, Florida. We worked closely with the project contractor and design team to monitor any deficiencies to assure any corrections were made including being onsite regularly through the construction of the Amphitheater for onsite inspections.

“This was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on,” says Joe Champion, PE, President of ECS Florida, LLC. “It was a high-profile local project, extremely demanding, and finished with very happy clients. It also took a complete team effort. I got a call from the City late one evening freaking out that the steel fabrication was starting and they didn’t realize they had to retain a consultant to provide fulltime inspection at the fabrication shops and there were two of them in Virginia starting the next day. We had boots on the ground at the plants the next day and mobilized five inspectors from all over the country to work around the clock. This was successful in large part due to our Bryce Peters in the Roanoke office. I had never spoken to Bryce before, but he jumped right in to help the team. He continued to manage the field operations throughout the whole project and did so with amazing quality and client service.”