Community Bandstand to be Rebuilt As it Was
But, Should it Be?
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, March 1, 2017
The Fort Fairfield town council is making progress toward acquiring bids to procure the reconstruction of the Fort Fairfield Community Bandstand which collapsed under excessive snow load on January 5.
Since 2005 the Community Bandstand has been a centerpiece in Fort Fairfield with its decorative flower beds and pleasant ambiance. But, a bandstand it isn’t.
Featuring a concrete slab, tongue and grove pine ceiling and a hollow cupola at its center peak, the former bandstand was designed to project sound in a 360 degree radius. But in reality, it suffered all the acoustical anomalies of a moderately sized, concrete, gymnasium locker room.
The RT60, or the time it takes for reverberating sound to drop 60 decibels below its original level, averaged around 1 second. This means if you clapped your hands under the roof of the bandstand you would hear your clap echoing around nearly a second afterward. This despite the fact that the bandstand had no exterior walls to trap the sound—it simply bounced back and forth between the floor and ceiling.
While the design may be pretty, the use of the bandstand as an actual bandstand is very limited. The echoing under the roof has caused bands over the years to move their setups to the entrance facing the audience on the large front lawn. They’ve also had to place their speakers outside to gain better projection of sound. In addition to detrimental acoustical conditions, the bandstand was also plagued by poor load-in accommodations, requiring performers for bands to park in general parking and carry their oft-times heavy equipment to the bandstand—an inconvenience on slow days, and next to impossible during the Potato Blossom Festival.
With all of these design flaws working against the bandstand, one would think the town council would at least consider alternate designs that would prove more practical. But, they continue to plan to build the same exact same bandstand.
Tim Goff, Economic & Marketing Director for the Town of Fort Fairfield, and Executive Director of the Fort Fairfield Chamber of Commerce acknowledged the poor acoustics of the former bandstand but said the pros far outweigh the cons. “While there are some challenges acoustically with the design of the bandstand, we believe the functionality and aesthetics of the bandstand for the wide variety of different users of the structure outweigh that challenge,” said Goff. “The bandstand is a source of tremendous community pride – how many people drive or walk downtown during the holidays and mention how beautiful the bandstand is lit up with the Community Christmas Tree? But beyond the aesthetics, the bandstand is also used extensively by a variety of community groups and citizens.”
Goff explained historically the bandstand has hosted weddings, class and family reunions, church services, and numerous performances – not only during the Maine Potato Blossom Festival, but also throughout the warmer months of the year. “We host nine nights of performances during the Festival, by groups ranging from rock bands, to fiddlers, singer-songwriters and, of course, the weekly karaoke gathering. Using different arrangements and configurations, we are able to make good use of that space and overcome the challenges presented by the fact it was designed to house a large band with the sound flowing up and out through the roof.”
While it may have been designed to have the sound “flow up through the roof” that is not the actual case as sound got trapped inside between the wood ceiling and concrete floor. Most performances today are done with speaker systems on tripod stands that already direct their sound outward with very few actual traditional horn-based concert band performances taking place at that location.
While the gazebo-shaped bandstand is a traditional design, the town of Houlton, Maine, over a decade ago, opted for a more functional amphitheater style design for their weekly concert band performances and other events that take place there throughout the year. The Houlton Amphitheater features a steel frame construction, steel roof, and red brick with architectural stone to combine both form and function. The Houlton Amphitheater does not exhibit any of the adverse echo and reverb conditions the Fort Fairfield Community Bandstand did, and all of its sound is directed outward toward the audience. The Houlton Amphitheater was also designed with a rear load-in area so performers do not have to carry equipment through the audience/spectator section to reach the venue.
Since this would be the opportune time to make the adjustments and changes necessary to make the bandstand location more amenable to the use it has acquired over the years, the idea of an amphitheatre similar to Houlton's was presented by this writer to the Fort Fairfield town manager, Jim Risner. But the town council remains steadfast in sticking with the original bandstand/gazebo design.
Goff says that he and the town manager believe it “would be difficult to justify the added expense, and the loss of this beautiful community resource, to redesign the bandstand into a performance venue that only caters to musical performances.”
Since the audio quality of the new gazebo-style bandstand is expected to be as poor as its forerunner, if no changes are made, the title “Bandstand” would be a misnomer. Perhaps the new structure should simply be called the “Fort Fairfield Community Gazebo.”
Featuring steel frame construction and an acoustical design more suitable for public performances, the Houlton Amphitheatre is a more practical concert venue than the Fort Fairfield Community Bandstand. However, the Fort Fairfield town council plans to rebuild the former Community Bandstand just as it was. photo/David Deschesne