'There's just lots of questions': Large-scale events at Colonial Arts Center put on hold for now as board discusses securing occupancy permit (2022)

BUCKHANNON – The Colonial Arts Center board plans to confirm they are sufficiently covered by the City of Buckhannon’s insurance before having more large events at the community-wide creative hub.

At its Aug. 2 monthly meeting, the Colonial Arts Center board discussed the ongoing construction at the downtown visual and performing arts center. During the meeting, CAC manager Anne Wilson reported workers have been working on the inside of the building almost every day for the last couple of weeks.

“They seem to be primarily making progress in the basement, more than anything, and we’re still waiting for the chair lifts to be installed,” Wilson said. “I have reached out about getting internet and I’ve talked to Bryson (VanNostrand, city architect) about the fire alarm system and sprinkler system, so really, we’ve done everything that we can and now we’re waiting for everything to be installed at this point.”

She said all the outlets, lighting fixtures and light switches are working, so the center should have its permanent lighting soon.

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“Soon if not already, we won’t have any of those streetlights hanging anywhere inside and we should just have like all of our regular lighting, which will be good,” Wilson said. “In about two weeks or so I’m hoping to get some estimates on seating for both theater spaces, so we can start to talk a little bit about what the seating will look like in the balcony theater and in the main stage.”

ART26201 president Bryson VanNostrand, also the city architect, said he hopes to keep addressing electrical concerns, and they are waiting for city employees to become available to work on other projects. During warmer weather, the Street Department focuses on sidewalk and paving projects, as noted in this My Buckhannon story.

“There’s a lot of electrical [issues], if it’s fire alarms or just chasing down some of the lighting fixtures, there’s even some electrical circuits that don’t appear to be working right, so keeping Travis in the building is a high priority for me and I know everyone has various priorities constantly,” VanNostrand said. “I talked to Jerry maybe three weeks ago about starting to install the ADA lifts and I guess he’s just too busy to do that right now.”

He is also hoping to work on getting the façade panels installed by potentially hiring commercial builders, but he wants the city’s public works director, Jerry Arnold, and his crew to work on the marquee themselves.

“There’s a lot of custom stainless-steel work to be built around the marquee, so [in regard to] getting the marquee and getting the façade panels up, I guess I’m relying on Jerry’s schedule and they’re relying on us to be able to hire a contractor that can do ceramic tile,” VanNostrand said.

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ART26201 has also been searching for businesses willing to sponsor several rooms in the center, including the basement, kitchen, green room and dressing rooms. A sponsorship for a dressing room would cost $2,500, the green room would be $3,500 and the kitchen and basement would be $5,000.

The workers have not spent a lot of time on the concession stand or the front lobby area because there are several decisions that need to be made about appliances and cabinetry. City recorder Randy Sanders asked VanNostrand if he could estimate when the CAC might be able to receive an occupancy permit.

“The sprinkler system is complete enough that we could do that, Travis is working on the fire alarm, and we would normally commission the fire alarm system and the sprinkler together because they’re interlocked,” VanNostrand said. “The fire marshal will want to make sure all the doors are fire-rated close and latch, all handrails are installed in stairwells and all emergency lights and exit signs are functional and installed.”

VanNostrand said he intended to install the handrail with his own people from VanNostrand Architects, but it would be a decent amount of work and he didn’t know when they would have time to complete it.

Sanders said he hopes a sense of urgency about completing the community arts center hasn’t been lost.

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“We need to be cautious of not getting overly optimistic,” Sanders said. “There’s a couple of schools of thought and it’s nice to have people in there, get them excited about where we are and maybe get their juices going about donating or putting more into it. The other side of the coin is, there has to be an urgency to finish the building and if we’re occupying it with events and having stuff happen, then the urgency of finishing the building may not be as apparent.”

'There's just lots of questions': Large-scale events at Colonial Arts Center put on hold for now as board discusses securing occupancy permit (1)

VanNostrand said no one has lost the sense of urgency to finish the building, but there have been some financial issues that have slowed them down.

“I don’t think anybody is stepping back on the urgency; I think it’s just a financial issue,” VanNostrand said. “Jerry’s priorities are always in high demand. Whether we keep Travis in there to hang light fixtures or hire a contractor to do it, it’s just a question of time. Once the cabinets come in for the basement and kitchen, who’s installing those? There’s just a lot of questions. As it relates to having public events in the building. I’m not at all concerned about the safety of anything or anybody in there.”

“We had upwards of 95 people there on Saturday and everything was safe,” he added. “It would be different if we had people on multiple stories, but as far as utilizing that main room, I’m totally comfortable with it being safe and the fire marshal wouldn’t let us do it if he thought it wasn’t proper.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said he was concerned about legal issues that may arise from not possessing the occupancy permit.

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“The problem is this is a government entity, and if there’s an event in there and something would happen – and I know it’s safe – but if something would happen, and there’s no occupancy permit, that’s fodder for an attorney,” Skinner said.

VanNostrand said a full sprinkler system is not required until the building is attempting to cater to about 300 people.

“The fire alarm system is not required until we have two separate auditoriums happening at the same time, so neither of those systems are really required for about 100 people, and they never were never there when it was a bar with music and alcohol,” VanNostrand said. “But I hear you loud and clear: you don’t invite someone over for a housewarming party while you’re still painting.”

Skinner said city officials should have a conversation with their insurance agent before hosting any other large gatherings in the space.

“My risk management hat says if we should, God forbid, have a fire or somebody should get hurt in there, we’re essentially opening up [the city’s liability insurance carrier]’s checkbook for a policy limit amount of money, which could be a $3 million claim and that makes me a little concerned now,” Skinner said. “I think we should reach out to Jamie [Powell, president and agent with Loudin Insurance] and just get his professional opinion about this moving forward and see what Travelers would do if we were to have a claim arise from something that we would have in there and then we can make the best decision moving forward.”

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You can read about the history of the historic theater and how the city came to own it here.

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