Curtain fell because of needed repairs

July 1, 2008 - 6:49PM

Doors to The Barn Theater — a local landmark — are closed to the public, effective immediately.

That was the decision made Tuesday by the local fire marshal, according to board Treasurer Coco Ream.

“Things are really buzzing around here,” Ream said, after she heard the news. “I got the call from Gordy [Board President Gordon Plaisted]. This inspector guy wasn’t our regular inspector, so I don’t know his name. He recommended closing the doors.”

The fire marshal could not be reached at the time of this writing.

The theater is in dire need of upgrades in order to keep the 60-year-old facility running. The gas is currently turned off, Ream said, and plumbing and electrical problems persist.

At a meeting held Monday evening in the theater lobby, the board of directors and members of the theater, along with a few members of the community, expressed their concerns that the theater may need to close its doors until much-needed repairs are made to the building.

Board member Janet Richey issued a statement reiterating to theater and community members that the Barn’s insurance company — Safeco Insurance — will not renew the theater’s insurance policy on Dec. 5 of this year.

Richey read part of a letter issued by Kimberly Brown of Ponta Castle Ingram Agency, Inc., a company that finds insurance agencies for theater programs. According to the letter from Brown, the theater’s insurance will not be renewed “due to the findings of several serious conditions affecting both property and general liability hazards.”

The theater’s board of directors agrees that work needs to be done, Richey said.

Richey also said that Webb and Son Construction estimated that necessary upgrades to the theater — upgrades which would bring the building back up to code for electrical, plumbing, and fire — would cost between $175,000 and $200,000.

To remodel the building, estimates were said to be between $450,000 and $500,000; a completely new facility would cost between $750,000 and $850,000.

Many Barn Theater and community members at the meeting recommended relocating all theater productions until the facility is brought back up to code, mentioning different venues such as the Porterville College auditorium or the Frank “Buck” Shaffer Theater.

They were unaware that the following day the theater doors would be closed for safety reasons by the fire marshal.

Yvette Ward, wife of newly elected City Councilman Brian Ward, said that she was “shocked” at the “obvious safety violations” she saw while doing a walk-through at the theater earlier that day, mentioning a sagging roof and other “general housekeeping” issues.

“Who will be responsible if someone is hurt in this theater?” she asked.

Board member Debra Hanks said that “[The Barn] has become — to a certain degree — unsafe.”

Hanks suggested that the theater should “close its doors and create a new corporation — a Barn Theater Foundation — whose sole purpose would be to raise money.”

And while there have been no decisions made so far as to what the theater will do to ensure that the building is brought up to code, all theater members agreed that they need a lot more support from the community in order to carry on the tradition the Barn has had in Porterville for the past 60 years.

Ream is unsure when the theater company will be able to raise the money to bring the building up to code. Until then, she said, some productions could be held outside on the grounds.

“I want to go on record for the public to know that we have been working at this issue a lot longer than just tonight,” Ream said. [The Barn Theatre] will continue as a viable theater group and continue to raise funds to help make the repairs we need.”

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