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State Office Responds to Conflict Over Shelbyville Theatre Inspections

The department which oversees the state fire marshal’s office has responded to 93 WIBC’s questions regarding recent inspections of building upgrades performed at The Strand Theatre.

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. – The Indiana Department of Homeland Security has responded after the Executive Director of a historic theatre in Shelbyville told 93 WIBC that he has been in conflict with inspectors from the State Fire Marshal’s office over plans to upgrade the building.

The Strand Theatre at 215 S. Harrison Street in Shelbyville has been owned and operated by a non-profit group since 2008, which is led by Executive Director David Finkel.  Over the past nine years, he says volunteers have put in a great deal of work to modernize the facility, including a replacement of the building’s electrical panels in 2009 and the installation of a new heating and cooling unit in 2015 and 2016.  But Finkel says it wasn’t until the theatre applied for a permit last year with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to remodel the stage and install an additional emergency exit did he begin to experience issues with the state’s fire inspectors.

“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,” says Finkel, who told 93 WIBC that the inspector had required the theatre to install a new sprinkler system which would have cost the non-profit group more than triple the cost of what the building is worth.

“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  The outcome of that inspection was they rescinded our Construction Design Release for this new fire exit and the expansion of our stage.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.

A local attorney appealed the decision for the Strand.  Finkel says the state decided to cancel their recension of the previous permit before it went in front of a judge.

Finkle says the State Fire Marshal’s office then sent a written letter notifying the theatre that they would have to go through 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.

During that follow-up inspection on March 13, Finkel says the same inspector told him the theatre had two violations.  Both were due to Construction Design Permits that weren’t filed or approved with the state for the electrical panels that were replaced eight years ago, as well as the new HVAC system that had been replaced starting two years ago.

Finkle says 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 will file an appeal.

93 WIBC contacted the office of James Greeson, the State Fire Marshal to ask for his response to the interview with David Finkel.  An e-mail was sent from the Public Information Office of the Indiana Department of Homeland to 93 WIBC asking to submit questions in writing regarding the Strand Theatre.

Below is the return e-mail correspondence that 93 WIBC received on Wednesday, April 5, 2017: 

 

Following is a reply regarding the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville. All text from IDHS and the State Fire Marshal are in red. The first is a general statement. The remaining text is in answer to your questions.

Your questions were wide ranging, and we had to talk to quite a few people inspectors, supervisors, an agency attorney, etc., to track down the information you had questions about. That’s the reason we were not able to get this information to you earlier.

Thanks,

Office of Public Affairs

Indiana Department of Homeland Security

 

Building inspectors under the state fire marshal, part of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, have a primary concern for the safety of the public. One of the agency’s responsibilities is to inspect public structures like the Strand Theatre for compliance with state fire and building code as adopted by the Fire and Building Safety Commission. This result is to use the code as part of a process to protect the public with appropriate fire safety measures.

 

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

These types of inspections are not required, but are not uncommon. This was not the type of inspection with regard to the Strand Theater. The Strand Theater was being inspected because improvements without a state construction design release were discovered. One of the goals of that inspection was to determine next steps. State Fire Marshal inspectors, part of IDHS, do have the authority to conduct these inspections, even if facility owners originally filed plans with local building officials.

 

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?

The design release was given for plans that provided incomplete information, which the agency did not know at the time. Once discovered, the design release was rescinded. This occurred in December of 2016. Also, the follow up inspections that have been negatively mentioned helped determine that a sprinkler system was not required for the building. It helped identify an area that wasn’t documented in the plans that removed the need for the sprinkler system.

 

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? 

It is the responsibility of property owners, managers, design professionals and construction managers to follow all applicable code. It is the responsibility of the building owners, managers and designers to ensure their work is properly filed so the appropriate inspectors can conduct inspections.

In this case, the state inspector had no knowledge that the HVAC and electrical improvements had been made. The inspections being conducted previously by the state inspector were for Entertainment and Amusement permits. As such, the inspector’s normal inspection would not have required him to view any areas where updates of the electrical or HVAC had been made. When the inspector incidentally saw the updates, he did tell the team representing the Strand that permits would need to be applied for.

Local building officials are responsible for regularly inspecting facilities within their jurisdiction.

State inspectors, in addition to regular inspections, may make more frequent visits to a facility. The main two reasons are: 1) Follow up on violations or 2) if complaints are received.

 

Were these permits required as far back as 2008?  Yes.

 

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?

While the option of a fine does fall under the authority of IDHS and the State Fire Marshal, this option isn’t used often. Also, if it’s determined a venue owner or manager is working to come into code compliance, fines can be withdrawn. The agency would prefer to simply work with the facility to ensure compliance with state code.  Also, please note that the option of a fine is up to $250 per day, per violation, just to clarify.

Representatives of the agency have explained to the Strand team on several occasions that they would rather work with them for compliance rather than issue a fine. The agency is charged with protecting the public with appropriate safety measures, according to code adopted by the Fire and Building Safety Commission.

 

93 WIBC asked David Finkel, Executive Director of the Strand Theatre, for his follow up response to the answers provided by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security:

 

[In response to IDHS answer to Question #1] This answer is not what was communicated to the Strand.  The following is part of the email received from the State Fire Marshal's Office:

 

“Marshal Greeson has directed a construction progress inspection of the Strand Theater. Could you please make arrangements for our inspection team to have access to the facility on Monday March 13th at 10:00 AM. We will need access to the entire building including the loft above the stage.” 

 

We informed them that there was no work done on the area for the Construction Design Release.  It was assumed that progress of the construction from the reinstated Construction Design Release was the purpose of the inspection, hence a "construction PROGRESS inspection".  All other work at the theater was properly permitted and inspected locally.  When we asked construction professionals about what to expect in a Construction Progress Inspection, none had ever heard of such an inspection. The "next steps" as determined by that inspection was issuing of violations.

 

[In response to IDHS answer to Question #2] The Constructions Design Release for this fire exit was reinstated by the State Fire Marshal's office in December 2016.

 

[In response to IDHS answer to Question #3] The 100% volunteer Strand Theatre relies upon the advice and guidance of the local inspectors and design professionals for all work done to the theater.  At no time was it communicated that work such as replacing of electrical panels would need a Construction Design Release. The work was locally permitted and inspected.  The Strand is proud to provide entertainment to our community without soliciting our community or businesses for funds.  We have had gracious professionals do work pro-bono and contractors perform work at reduced rates.  Had there been a requirement at that time, the Strand would have complied. 

 

[In response to IDHS answer to Question #4] The State Fire Inspector, during the process of having the violations signed for on his tablet, told the representative from the Strand that each violation carried at $250 per day fine.  The volunteer asked specifically when that fine commenced, he stated "as of today's date" which was March 13, 2017.  He did not mention it was a potential fine.  He did not seem willing to help in resolution of these issues, only communications of the violations and actions that could be taken.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE POSTED TO WIBC.COM ON SUNDAY, APRIL 2.

 

93 WIBC’S C.J. MILLER REPORTING.

 

Twitter: @CJMillerWIBC

 

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of the Strand Theatre

 

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