July 02, 2008 7:19 PM

Porterville Fire Department Chief Mario Garcia said Wednesday that the city did not close the Barn Theater, despite claims made Tuesday that it was indeed shut down.

Late Tuesday evening, The Recorder received a call from theater board member Janet Richey.

“I’m calling to tell you that the fire marshal closed the doors to The Barn,” Richey said. The Recorder verified the statement with board Treasurer Coco Ream, who said she was informed of the closing by the “board president.”

Ian Hammer is the current Barn Theater president.

“It wasn’t me,” Hammer said. “My official position is that it could probably be a misunderstanding, and that’s what I think it is — a misunderstanding.”

However, Garcia released a statement Monday morning which said that on June 30, “at the request of representatives of the Barn, Building and Fire Department officials responded and conducted a field inspection of the Barn that identified safety and structural issues.” Garcia said.

“The fire marshal and the chief building official for the City of Porterville have indicated that no verbal or written closure order has been issued against the Barn Theater.”

Garcia’s release also said that “During the field inspection, comments were made by a theater representative expressing a desire for the city to close the theater, which would assist the Barn with its efforts to apply for grants.”

At at meeting held Wednesday at the Porterville Fire Department office, Battalion Chief/Fire Marshal Loran C. Blasdell told The Recorder that he received a call from Richey’s husband Johnathan asking that he come to the theater.

“He said his wife, Janet Richey, is a board member and she would meet me there,” Blasdell said. “I met her there. Janet Richey asked me to close the theater. I told her plainly, three times, that it is not in my jurisdiction to do that.”

City Manager John Longley said that closing the theater would have shown “great indifference to the community,” noting that before considering closing a facility like the Barn , the city “always tries to find resolutions to situations.”

Garcia said that shutting down a facility is rare, and would only occur if an “immediate hazard for life” was found. It can take days, weeks, or even months for a facility to be closed down, depending on the severity of the situation.

“Our main interest is the fire life safety of the people in this community,” Garcia said. “There is a process in place that has to be executed before buildings are condemned.”

Gary Banks, chief building official for the City of Porterville, said “It is not Fire Marshal Loran Blasdell’s decision to condemn the building, it’s mine, and I haven’t even finished my report yet.”

Banks would therefore be the one who would post if a building was substandard and needed to be closed, not the Fire Department.

“The only time I would close the building is if I was called while a play was in session and I saw a life threatening situation,” Blasdell said.

Banks said that he will turn in his report from the inspection to management and after that, it will be his boss’s call whether or not the theater will be shut down. He said it is always the department’s desire to work with people and help them get their buildings up to code rather than close them.

Lifetime member of the Barn Dick Eckhoff recommended that both a Barn Theater board and a Barn Theater Foundation be created — one to promote plays and deal with structural issues, the other as an entity devoted to raising and investing money.

“Let’s quit screaming about what the problem is and let’s resolve it,” Eckhoff said.

Wendy Plaisted, member of the board of directors for the Barn, issued a statement saying that the board wants the public to know that, not only is the theater open, “Autobaun” will be performed for three weekends in July and The Hosscars — a Barn Theater awards ceremony — will still be happening this year in August.

“We will be finishing out this season,” Plaisted said.

Close window