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The Hunt for Stadium Seating
By: Taylor Moson

As worship facilities expand, renovate, and relocate, incorporation of stadium seating is a trend that has gained traction and popularity in the last several years. Stadium seating is no longer just reserved for “megachurches.” As worship facilities today incorporate more live entertainment, including music and theater into their messages, the revolution of having stadium seating has become extremely popular. The addition and incorporation of stadium seating:

• Enhances sight lines to the stage or pulpit
• Allows more usable space on the floor due to elevated seating platforms in rear or balcony
• Captures usable space underneath the platforms for classrooms, restrooms, storage use, etc.
• Provides the design team additional options and design creativity.

Many churches inquire about stadium seating not because they are categorized as the “megachurch,” those with attendee numbers in the thousands, but instead, because these churches have outgrown their current facilities, and, as they have experienced the growth, they have come to need a different in a worship building facility.

Sometimes this is the addition of a multi-level balcony to the existing sanctuary to accommodate an extra 500 congregants on a Sunday. It can also be the need for a main sanctuary that seats 5,000 with stadium seating and the ability to broadcast services live to a dozen or more remote locations simultaneously. No matter how large or small anymore, more worship facilities today are examining the idea of utilizing stadium seating in their next renovation, addition, or new construction project.

Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California, is an excellent example. When their congregation outgrew their current facility, they decided to purchase and repurpose an old Boeing Aerospace manufacturing plant in town and relocate their main campus. The top floor was converted to classrooms and their onsite offices. The main sanctuary includes stadium seating, as well as the balcony area on the second floor to provide additional seating if required during busier services.

Another great example is Skyline Wesleyan Church in Las Mesa, California. It was founded in 1954 with a simple 350-seat sanctuary on a flat floor. By 1995, the church had an average Sunday attendance of more than 3,000. This led to the need for expansion of their current facility, which became a multi-phase project over several years.

Up until 2012, four weekend services were held in the Family Center, a 1,000-seat flat floor auditorium and phase 1 of the expansion. In November 2010, ground was broken for a new Worship Center to include a 2,500-seat auditorium with stadium seating, a multipurpose room/gymnasium, a 200-seat traditional chapel, and a café. The new 60,000-square-foot sanctuary opened in March 2012.

One of the main benefits that stadium seating provides to a worship facility is the line of sight from each individual seat. The stadium seating will raise each seat and provide better sightlines to the congregants. It is typical for a worship facility’s architect to design the stadium seating with a 36”- 40” platform depth and a 7”- 14” riser height, depending on the type of seat chosen and the facility’s use. This usually provides the sightlines necessary to view the stage/pulpit from anywhere in the facility.

Another large benefit that stadium seating provides to worship facilities is space. The inclusion of stadium-style seating platforms provides the maximum utilization of existing or planned floor space. This means that, in many cases, the overall height of the top platforms will allow usable space to be “tucked under” the back of the stadium risers. By incorporating space under the risers, the overall floor area can be maximized by locating things like storage, restrooms, classrooms, or similar functions under the back of the riser platforms.

Many worship facilities today are adopting a “green approach” to their development plans and include modern, energy-saving concepts to their renovation/addition/new construction projects. It is not uncommon to see today’s worship construction projects include roofing solar panels, organic coffee bars, recyclable construction materials, and much more.

So, now what?

The search now begins for the design team (the pastor and church development team, the architect and the contractor) to determine what the benefits and costs will be to build this stadium seating. Today’s design includes several ways of constructing stadium seating in a worship facility environment.

The fastest and easiest method consists of stacking large blocks of expanded polystyrene, or Geofoam, and encapsulating the stacked foam in a concrete topping. This method has been proven to cut time and money from a construction project due to its efficiency and ease of installing when compared to the traditional methods of using light gauge metal or wood framing. In addition to the stadium riser platforms being constructed out of Geofoam, the material is commonly used to raise an elevation, construct stages or other platforms, in addition to accommodate ramps and walkways.

The EPS block is stacked up in a tiered fashion similar to stacking Legos and encapsulated with a concrete topping slab to attach your seating. There are even U.S.-based companies that specialize in this type of system and will design, pre-cut each individual block and label all components for delivery and installation. What you receive is similar to a puzzle of large foam blocks for assembly by others on a construction site whenever needed. 

The EPS Geofoam is a 100% recyclable material and normally incorporates a percentage of recycled material. It can usually be manufactured within a close radius of the jobsite and can assist projects in obtaining LEED credits. EPS Geofoam is one of the lightest and easiest materials to move and manipulate on a construction site.

So, as you consider and explore the idea of stadium seating, remember the benefits it provides and the experience it can create for your members.

Taylor B. Moson is project manager for Stadium Seating Enterprises, Inc., www.stadiumseating.com.

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