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Shelbyville Theatre In Conflict With State Over Fire Inspections

The Executive Director of the Strand Theatre says the non-profit organization faces a potential $500 a day fine for upgrades already performed, but not previously approved or recommended by the State Fire Marshal’s office.

ABOVE: David Finkel, Executive Director of the Strand Theatre in downtown Shelbyville, stands in front of the restored marquee along Harrison Street.

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. – An effort to restore an historic theatre in downtown Shelbyville is facing scrutiny by inspectors with the state fire marshal’s office and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Cinema Three at 215 S. Harrison Street closed in 2005 after a new theatre had opened at an old Kroger store on East State Road 44.  The building sat vacant for several years until a non-profit group, led by David Finkel, decided to acquire, renovate and operate the theatre in 2008.  The group decided to rename it The Strand Theatre, which was its original name when it first opened in 1916.  

“The first thing we had to do was renovate.  It started out as a pretty horrible three-screen theatre.  It wasn’t going to do what we needed it to do, and we were going to be a live performance venue, not a film venue.  We’re going to be a multi-use performing arts center,” says Finkel.

Little by little, the electrical work was redone, the heating and cooling system sitting at the back of the stage was replaced and part of the front lobby was torn apart and remodeled.  

The volunteers then began a plan to expand the size of the theatre’s stage and cut a six-foot six emergency exit that would lead to the back alley behind the building in case of a fire.  That is when Finkel says the issues with the state’s inspectors began.

“This past year in August 2016, we had a new inspector.  For some reason, all that work in the past didn’t seem to be what he wanted.  When he looked at the work for our fire exit, he made requirements of the Strand which were economically infeasible; things requiring us to do that were over triple the cost of the worth of our building,” says Finkel, who says previous inspectors from the state office had given their approval.  However, the current inspector was requiring the Strand to install a sprinkler system throughout the building.

“We said we didn’t think that was right, and [the senior staff from the state fire marshal’s office] was here for a meeting.  That meeting ended up in November 2016 turning into an inspection.  The outcome of that inspection was they rescinded our Construction Design Release for this new fire exit and the expansion of our stage.  We didn’t quite understand why,” says Finkel.

The Strand asked a local attorney to appeal that decision.

“Before it went in front of the judge, the state canceled the [previous rescinded decision],” says Finkel, who thought that would be the last issue the theatre would face from inspectors.

“Out of the blue, we got a request from the state fire marshal’s office to do a ‘Construction Progress Inspection.’  We called around to find out what that was all about and there was not a contractor, an engineering firm, an architectural firm [nor] anybody that had ever heard of such a thing,” according to Finkel.

In December 2016, Finkel says the same original inspector took another look at the building.

“We told them there’s nothing to inspect.  We haven’t done any work,” says Finkel.

The inspectors issued two new violations against the Strand Theatre.  The first was for not having a ‘Construction Design Permit’ for the electrical panels installed in 2009.  The second violation was for the replacement of the heating and cooling system in 2015 and 2016 that was also done without a ‘Construction Design Permit’ approval from the state.

“We checked with both of our contractors.  [They say] they’ve never had to go through the state on items like this.  Both projects were locally permitted [and] inspected.  The local inspectors would have guided us toward that process had they thought it was necessary.  We wonder why we’re singled out on it,” says Finkel.

According to Finkle, the state inspector has threatened the Strand Theatre with a $250 a day violation per fine, which would equal $3,500 a week if levied against the non-profit organization.  Finkel says the theatre plans to appeal.

93 WIBC attempted to contact James Greeson, the Indiana State Fire Marshal, to ask for his response to the inspections and violations suggested against the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville.  An e-mail from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security Public Information Office was sent to 93 WIBC asking to submit questions in writing.  

As of Sunday, April 2, the office has yet to provide answers to the following questions from 93 WIBC, which were submitted via e-mail to the return address from the Indiana Department of Homeland on Wednesday, March 29:

 

1)  A representative from the Strand Theatre says that in Dec. 2016, the State Fire Marshal’s office performed a “Construction Progress Inspection” on the property.  Are those types of inspections required of every building that is going through upgrades?

 

2)  Is it common for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to require the installation of a sprinkler system in order to finish work on a previously approved State Design Release, such as the one granted to the Strand Theatre for the installation of a new fire exit?

 

3)  A representative from the Strand Theatre also says the previous inspector(s) with the State Fire Marshal’s office responsible for regular inspections of the property did not ask for or communicate the requirement of “Construction Design Permits” for HVAC work done in 2008 and electrical work done in 2015 and 2016?  Were these permits required as far back as 2008?

 

4)  How does the Indiana Department of Homeland Security respond to those who would say that the recent requests made of the inspector from the State Fire Marshal’s office, as well as the suggestion of a $500 a day fine for violations, put an undue financial burden upon a non-profit organization with limited funds such as The Strand Theatre in Shelbyville seeking to provide an economic benefit to the community?

 

Finkel says no performances are scheduled after this summer due to the uncertainty whether the non-profit organization running the theatre can continue to operate with the threat of fines from the state, as well as the legal costs of having to appeal any such violations.

“We hope to find this is common practice throughout the state, because if that is the case then we just have to do what we have to do,” says Finkel.  “But if it is not common practice, then we might have a little problem.”

 

CLICK BELOW TO HEAR DAVID FINKEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE STRAND THEATRE, TALK ABOUT THE THEATRE AND THE ISSUES IT HAS FACED WITH INSPECTORS FROM THE STATE FIRE MARSHAL'S OFFICE:

 

93 WIBC’S C.J. MILLER REPORTING.

Twitter: @CJMillerWIBC

Photo Credit: C.J. Miller / WIBC

(CORRECTION: David Finkel's name had been misspelled, but has since been corrected.)

 

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