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RCF PA/VA for Northern Ireland's National Stadium at Windsor Park

MGA Communication equips facility with EN54-compliant system

The National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast, has been completely redeveloped, following £31m of funding from the Northern Ireland Executive. This included demolition and rebuild of the South and Railway (East) stands, and the subsequent demolition of the West stand, and complete renovation of the North stands by building contractors, O’Hare & McGovern.

This gives the National Stadium, where the Irish Football Association is headquartered, an all-covered seating capacity of 18,434.

Vital to the upgrade was a fully integrated PA and Voice Alarm system that was both EN54 compliant, with an impressive STI value, but at the same time incorporated a dynamic full range entertainment sound system to enhance the match day experience — both for the National team, and Linfield FC, whose home ground this is.

Belfast-based RCF partners, MGA Communication were the successful bidders, responding to a tender document originally drawn up by Arup. They were tasked with carrying out the implementation of commentary/broadcast systems, as well as disabled refuge, working under electrical contractors Wm Coates; their solution was based around an RCF DXT 7000 emergency evacuation system and Acustica P-series stadium speakers.

This architecture is based on a model that RCF has successfully rolled out in similar sized stadia right across the world. In fact, the success of MGA’s bid was based on the deployment of a similar RCF P-series solution at nearby Kingspan (Ravenhill) Stadium, home of Ulster Rugby, several years earlier.

MGA managing director Aaron McKeown stated that the main requirement at Windsor Park was for the installation to be EN54-16 compliant for the electronics, EN54-24 for the speaker systems and the overall installation to be BS 5839 (Part 8) compliant. The system also needed to meet current FIFA requirements.

“On a normal match day, the crowd noise needs to be exceeded by 10dB,” he said. On being awarded the contract MGA wasted no time in contacting RCF for assistance with the design, derivation and implementation of the PA/VA solution, and soon RCF’s Engineering Support Group in Italy was preparing an acoustic model of the stadium using EASE 4.4.

“For us it was a no brainer to use RCF,” said McKeown. “We knew they would support it technically and having an existing working relationship was key,” he said.

Already experienced in the use of the scalable DXT 7000, contracts manager Simon McClelland and senior engineer, Gareth Lennon, were confident that an enhanced version of the Ravenhill solution would meet all evacuation protocols, and at the same time be sufficiently adaptable to work only in selected stands (or on a reduced volume basis) as required for lower attendance games such as Linfield home matches.

A Master control rack is stationed in the South stand, with further 42U satellite racks located in other three, linked via optical fibre for the entertainment PA system, and copper for the emergency mic to conform to EN54 norms. Each rack plays its own emergency announcement independently, at an SPL of 89dB(A).

There is a Fireman’s mic in each of the stands on a local buss, and the entire signal path from fireman's microphone to loudspeaker lines is completely and automatically monitored against faults within the DXT 7000’s 8 x 80W matrix. Included in the coverage are the pre-existing speakers in the administrative offices in the main stand.

A commentary system for the hearing impaired is also provided via a line output from the RCF PA/VA and there are various XLR inputs for mixer plug-ins. Finally, the multi-zone paging mic is located in the master control room overlooking the pitch.

Explaining the design, Gerry McKeown, design Director, said, “We decided on a decentralised approach, and because of the requirement for a dynamic high end entertainment solution as part of the voice alarm system, we decided to put in a separate horn overlay system.”

The main entertainment PA comprises 45 P6215 15in coaxial weatherproof 60° x 60° speakers which are IP55-rated, driven low impedance by RCF IPS 3700 amplifiers.

These are spaced in clusters of two along the lip of the stand roof. Positioned alongside, are pairs of the EN54-24 compliant overlay system comprising IP66-rated HD 21EN 30W ABS horns, co-located with each cluster. The exception to this pairing is the East stand where only single enclosures of each were required The horns immediately come into play in the event of a failure of the main system, providing seamless UPS.

To set the splay angles of each cluster for optimum stand coverage required the commissioning of some bespoke bracketry by the electrical contractor William Coates. This was designed and fabricated with separate tethering for safety purposes. “This not only prevents any spillage onto the pitch but focuses the sound where we want it, at the back and front of the tribunes,” Gerry McKeown continued.

“As for the DXT 7000, this was chosen not only because of its EN54 compliance, but the fact it could be run in a decentralised way and carry out a number of DSP functions.” He rationalises that a decentralised topology also affords a better level of redundancy, so that if one master system fails, another can send signals to the rack.

With an enviable pedigree in fitting out Sports & Leisure Centres across Ireland, MGA Communication can now proudly add this to their prestigious portfolio of sporting arenas. In terms of after-sales, they provide a sound engineer for every major match at Windsor Park and will support the installation with a full maintenance contract.