Table of Contents


"When Crepe Paper and Tissue Aren't Enough"

Large-scale construction involves transforming the local gym, (or your event area) into a far away space or time. The creation of this fantasy involves installing temporary partition walls, special lighted entryways, tunnels with sound effects, and decorated props.

Getting Started

  • Coordinate construction work with the Decorations Chairperson.
  • Plan your design by strengthening what worked last year and dropping what didn't.
  • Formulate a budget that can support your design. It's great to be optimistic, however it may be frustrating for fund raising efforts if your project costs more than the group can afford.
  • Organize and recruit volunteer parent help. Get the community involved.
  • The most important: Have fun!! Enjoying what you are doing will get you over those unpredictable hurdles. Do not underestimate the value of happy volunteer helpers.
  • Know your limitations. Learn to ask for help. Ensure you do not set your expectations too high. If the project is too big and burdensome, it will discourage volunteers who may not see an end in sight.
  • Ensure you have adequate construction and storage space to build, and pre-assemble.
  • Ensure you adequate time and volunteers.
  • Don't forget to schedule time for tear down and clean up after Grad Night.

Layout and Design


Put together a "story board" for your layout. Create a picture flow of traffic from the time the Graduates enter to the time they leave. Locate the event areas such as the game rooms, eating areas, entertainment, and rest areas. These areas define where you want your visual impacts to be. Coordinate with Committee Chairs to determine the amount of area, electrical power, and access leading to these areas. This will establish your "first" vision of the construction.


Safety It is mandatory that you incorporate safety into the construction process.

  • Have your layout reviewed by local Fire Marshal for life safety.
  • Comply with all rules from the Fire Marshall (See the Fire Safety section).
  • Use only approved materials and electrical equipment.


  • Identify useable space and compare against requested required space from the Grad Night committees (such as Food, games, and entertainment). Avoid creating dead spaces.
  • Determine traffic layout paths; identity clearances locate obstructions and verify overhead clearances.
  • Locate physical barriers, such as stairs and ramps.
  • Identify permanent hindrances, such as lawn sprinklers, landscaping, or valve boxes.

Word to the Wise: A qualified electrical person should complete this task.

Electrical Power Design

  • Identify electrical power needs. Request each Grad Night committee to list their power requirements (such as games, lighting, coffee makers...).
  • Locate and identify sizes and sources of electrical power at the event site.
  • Layout the power and lighting circuits.
  • Prepare a contingency electrical power plan in the event main power is lost.

How much to build?

This is a decision your committee must make based on budget, space, time and volunteer help. There are several different options to construction:

  • Cover Everything: Create a total "theme" environment. Decorate and cover the entire Grad Night event area from floor to ceiling.
  • Cover Only Major Parts: Create a sense of illusion in major areas only. Concentrate decorations and construction in congested areas to create high impact.
  • Cover Only Special Areas: Limit construction to only special areas such as the entrance, eating area, and entertainment area.

Construction Basics

The basic construction unit is the flat panel. The panels typically consist of a backing frame and a front face. The panels can be constructed in various sizes and shapes, depending on what illusion you want to portray. The most common size is a 4'x8' rectangle. The 4X8 size is a standard sheet size for construction materials (such as plywood, cardboard, and Styrofoam).

Panel Front

The panel front face can be covered with a number of materials:

  • Plywood: Use thin (1/8" thick) Luan plywood sheets to get the strength without excessive weight.
  • Cardboard: Lightweight but not very strong or rigid. Cardboard is inexpensive, easy to cut, and available in single or double thickness.
  • Styrofoam: Lightweight, strong, and rigid. Typically faced with a foil material. Styrofoam is moderately expensive.
  • Styrene: Lightweight but flakes when cut. Typically available in large thickness.
  • Foam core: Thin layer of Styrofoam with an outer layer of paper. Foam core is more durable than cardboard but just as light. Foam core can be very expensive.
  • Fiberglass Translucent Panels: Lightweight, strong, translucent (ideal for special lighting effects).
  • Fabrics, Canvas, House Vapor Barrier Paper: Lightweight. Needs to be stretched and glued or stapled to the support frame.

Panel Frame

Construct a lightweight outer frame with an additional brace down the middle (vertical or horizontal).

  • Wood: 2"x2" or I"x3"' fir or pine strips are lightweight and strong. The wood face ensures easy attachment for the front panel face.
  • Plastic pipe: Lightweight and strong. Round edges of the pipe make attachment to the face panel difficult.
  • Metal Pipe: Heavier but very strong. Typically not worth the effort due to weight and problems attaching the face panel. Also, the metal frame can be a hazard near electrical power lines.

Panel Construction: Typical Lightweight Panel

Construct from standard 4x8 ft Luan plywood face panels and a 1X2 wood frame. Use 1/8- thick Luan plywood for the front face. The Luan plywood can be stapled, nailed, screwed, or glued to the support frame. Plywood panels will last longer than cardboard or other types of panels. Standard 4x8 panels allow for ease of installation, storage, and transportation.

Panel Assembly, "A House of Cards"

Standard flat panels can be connected at right angles to make a box or booth (like a house of cards). With a little imagination, the box can be made into a castle, western fort, large backdrop countryside, carnival, busy city street, or to simply serve as a room divider. Much like a house of cards, the standard shape allows the panels to be built on top of each other. High backdrops can be constructed and still be lightweight.
Note: If using the panels outside, ensure you provide extra bracing for the wind. The taller the structure, the more area for the wind and the greater the force to blow it apart.

Backdrop Panel Tricks and Tips

  • Backdrop panels should be strong and rigid, but lightweight. Avoid building panels of heavy materials (such as 2X4 lumber and 1/2" plywood (a panel should weigh about 3-5 lbs.). The backdrop panels are for decoration only.
  • Connect panels together with either self-tapping screws, large electrical plastic tie-wraps, or 1/4" bolts with wing nuts.
  • Fireproof any panels that are intended to be used indoors (See the Fire Safety section).

Grad Night Layout Models:

Converting ideas into real structures can be difficult. Scale models constructed from foam board (or similar) can help overcome the "visualization" problems. A scale model can help plan layouts with greater accuracy, ensure an accurate bill of materials and make job construction easy.

Construction Details

Large "Stand Alone" Decorations:
Large "Stand Alone" Decorations are high impact props that show your construction talent such as an Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, or Empire State Bldg (with King Kong).
Beware that large stand alone decorations can be very time consuming, expensive, and may be never noticed by the Graduates.

Special Construction at the Entrance:
The entrance is the impression the graduates see of Grad Night. It should not be overlooked as a place to provide special emphasis on decorations and construction. Beware, however, that the graduates quickly pass through the entrance and it could be quickly forgotten. The entrance should have the right balance to entice the graduates in but not consume all the time and money to construct.


CAUTION: Your electrical system should be reviewed and installed by a qualified electrician. Electrical systems can be very dangerous!!

Electrical power is a critical component of a successful Grad Night. Most areas of the Grad Night event will require temporary lighting and/or electrical power. The limitation of available power might make it necessary to be creative with lighting design and technology.

Safety First:

When utilizing electrical power remember, "Safety is First."

  • The temporary electrical system should be reviewed and installed only by a qualified electrician.
  • All electrical items should have a "UL" (or similar) electrical safety label.
  • Electrical systems should be inspected for damage such as cut cables or damaged plugs.
  • Electrical components should be protected from damage and installed where people cannot come in accidental contact with the equipment. Do not install electrical equipment where exposed to damage.
  • Do not "daisy-chain" extension cords or plug-strips together. They will typically not be approved by the fire marshal.
  • When running extension cords, tape them down and protect them so they do not become trip hazards. When running a cord across an entrance or exit, run the cord up and over to prevent damage to the cord.
  • When using a strobe light, control it with a timer or motion detector, or an on-off switch to minimize it's operation. A strobe light can get hot.
  • Ensure you know the location of all power distribution safety shutoff circuit breakers and switches.
  • Consider providing (renting) an emergency power generator for backup power. You never know!

Electrical Power Sources

The following are possible sources of electric power:

  • Battery Powered: Batteries can provide low voltage, typically safe DC power for lighting, air circulation fans, and sound playing equipment.
  • Low Voltage AC Power: Low voltage power is typically either 10 or 24 volt AC electrical power (used in the home for doorbell, telephones, and control circuits for heating systems). The lower voltage is typically safer than the higher voltage 120-volt circuits.
  • 120 Volt AC Power: Normal house electrical power is I15-Volt AC power. Standard power is distributed throughout the house for most electrical items such as lamps, tools, stereos, clocks, computers, televisions, microwaves, etc.). Either a 15 or a 20 Amp circuit breaker protects the 115 Volt AC receptacle outlets. The size of the circuit breaker is the limiting factor to the total number of electrical items you can plug into the circuit.
  • Higher Voltage AC Power: A Higher voltage (such as 240 and 440 volt AC power) might be available at the event site power panel, but they should not be used for Grad Night unless a qualified electrician is available for proper connection and setup. A qualified electrician must only install the higher voltage systems.

CAUTION: Temporary lighting systems should only be installed by a qualified electrician. The lighting system power supply must be properly sized to prevent overloading. Lighting systems may also generate excessive heat, which could burn people or start a fire.


Your Grad Night will probably use temporary lights for general lighting and special effects (such as black lights, strobe lights, rope lights, and flicker lights).

Lighting fixtures can be utilized to provide lighting in many different ways:
Inexpensive recessed lighting fixtures can be used to "hide" a lamp within wall panels. The fixtures come in insulated and un-insulated models to keep adjacent materials from getting too hot. Only the insulated fixtures should be used.
Lamps and fixtures come in 24 volt, and 120-volt units, allowing for a wide variety of lighting.

Construction Tools:

Tools vary depending on the type of construction. Typical construction tools include hammers, drill, circular saw, hand saw, screwdriver, knife, tape measure, straight edge, level, and duct tape.

Construction Cost Considerations

  • Renting vs. building is a decision based on cost of materials and manpower. Rental is expensive, but it is an alternative to building.
  • Save your materials and recycle your props from previous years. Don't reinvent the wheel!
  • Use standard sizes and shapes (such as 4 X 8 ft panels) to minimize waste, improve storage and transportation, and maximize use of the panels.
  • Minimize maintenance costs by using sturdy materials (such as plywood instead of cardboard) that can be used over and over with minimum of repair and upkeep. Make an initial investment to save money in the future.