Ryan-Biggs Winner of Engineering Excellence Award for Rehabilitation of the Hangar Theatre

April 21 2011

Ryan-Biggs Associates, P.C., a consulting firm specializing in structural engineering in Clifton Park and Skaneateles Falls, NY, was named a Platinum winner in the Structural Systems category in the 2011 American Council of Engineering Companies of New York (ACEC NY) Engineering Excellence Competition. Selected for its structural engineering work on the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, Ryan-Biggs received the Platinum award for the successful completion of the rehabilitation of this facility. 

The Hangar Theatre has been a cornerstone of the Ithaca performing arts community since 1976. The theatre is a converted municipal airplane hangar, which was constructed in 1934.  Years of deferred maintenance and recurrent seasonal flooding necessitated a venue upgrade for the group.  After careful consideration, the Hangar Theatre chose to renovate their existing facility rather than construct a new building.  The renovation of the theatre is a testament to the possibilities of adaptive reuse.  The project was conceived by HOLT Architects in conjunction with the Hangar Theatre.   Ryan-Biggs provided structural design and construction phase services and also served as the Special Inspector.   Northeast Construction Services served as General Contractor.

Project Highlights

  • The building flooded regularly during the spring snow melt.   To minimize flooding, the floor was raised throughout the building by placing new concrete slab over the existing slabs.  Raising the slab solved the flooding issues, but complicated every other facet of the project.
  • A dressing room addition was constructed on the northeast corner.  Because of poor soil conditions, bearing the foundations on the surface soils was preferable to extending the foundations to conventional frost depth.   To provide frost protection for the foundations, a shallow frost-protected foundation system was developed.
  • The main roof of the original hangar consists of steel trusses and open-web steel bar joists.  When the building was initially renovated into a theatre, catwalks were installed over the auditorium seating.  These catwalks and the trusses themselves required significant reinforcement.
  • Portions of the existing masonry walls were removed to accommodate a more open floor plan.  This necessitated steel shoring to support upper portions of these walls, which are essential to the character of the building.
  • The original rolling steel hangar doors were removed from within the building, repainted, and reinstalled on the building exterior.  
  • Renovations included two new stairs framed with engineered lumber stringers and large landings at the mezzanine level.  The landings were framed with tightly spaced 2x6 joists to keep the structural depth to a minimum.  This thin floor system allowed the landings to align with the upper level of the seating area while providing maximum ceiling heights below.  

This project offered a wide array of engineering, architectural, and construction challenges.  The project team was able to meet these challenges by developing design and construction solutions tailored to the specific criteria of the renovation.  Unlike most building projects where one or two construction materials are predominantly used for the structure, the renovation was accomplished by using each type of construction material in the role that it was best suited for.  The result is a facility that has all of the amenities of a new theatre but retains the feel of the pre-World War II Ithaca Municipal Airport. This project ensures a vibrant role for this building in the community for generations to come and should serve as a true lesson in sustainability.    

The panel of ACEC New York judges consisted of members of the professional engineering community and construction industry, including military and government officials, organization presidents, members of the engineering press, and educators.  Judging was based on a number of criteria including original and innovative application of new or existing techniques, technical values to the engineering profession, social and economic consideration, project complexity, and meeting and exceeding client needs.  The awards were presented at a black-tie dinner dance at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

About ACEC New York

The American Council of Engineering Companies of New York (ACEC New York) was founded in 1921 and consists of 225 firms representing professional consulting engineers in private practice.  The organization's goal is to advocate consulting engineering and enhance the image and business practices of the professional engineering companies in the planning, design, and construction industry.  More information can be found on the association's Web site at

About The Hangar Theatre

The Hangar Theatre is located in Ithaca, NY, in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region.  The theatre opened in 1975 in a renovated municipal airport hangar.  It is a nationally respected professional theatre deeply rooted in the community that reaches people of all ages through a breadth of productions and education programs.    To learn more, visit

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