After allowing Murfreesboro Little Theatre to use a city-owned building for nearly 50 years, the City of Murfreesboro notified the acting troupe that it will immediately close the building but there's a chance it might reopen.
"While the need for performing arts space in our community is obviously of great value and importance, the City cannot consciously allow a building deemed unsafe to be occupied nor does the City maintain confidence in the ability to resolve issues of non-compliance," Community Services Executive Director Angela Jackson said.
Fire Marshal Carl Peas said the building had no "working fire alarm or suppression systems, proper emergency egress and exit pathways, or proper stairwell egress." Plus, MLT was storing "significant amounts of combustibles" in the aging building.
"Thus, I strongly suggested that all public performances at the Playhouse should cease immediately and combustible items stored there should be removed as soon as practical," Peas said.
City Building & Codes Director Robert Holtz stated that the building is "structurally unsound."
He noted the July 24 inspection found "sagging floor joists over the theater area. The amount of sag was appreciable and was partially-supported by a wall constructed from logs that were part of the original construction. One log at the bottom of the wall had shifted and rolled partially out of the wall causing concern that additional loading could be added to a floor system that was already sagging."
Holtz added, "The one set of stairs that serves the four floors of the structure where soft in some areas and temporary supports had been added to the stairs. These walls created passageways that were narrow and could make search and rescue confusing in a basement. The age of the structure and the lack of maintenance through the years have caused the building to deteriorate to the point that structural stability and life safety were being compromised."
Built in 1939 by the Youth Council of the Works Progress Administration, the facility on Ewing Blvd. first served a Scout Lodge for many years. Murfreesboro Little Theatre has performed there since the early 1960s, and Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department's Sunshine Players shared the stage from 1989 to 1995 as well.
The City of Murfreesboro owns the Playhouse property, which has been leased to the Murfreesboro Little Theatre since 2005. The current term of the lease is set to expire in April 2020.
Under the lease, the Murfreesboro Little Theatre is responsible for maintaining the property in accordance with the City's property maintenance and fire codes. The City's fire marshal and codes officials conducted a full inspection of the facility Friday, July 26.
After reviewing the findings of the inspection, City staff will take additional actions as appropriate. Depending on the results of complete fire and structural safety inspections, the City may look to terminate the lease agreement with the Murfreesboro Little Theatre.
On July 24, Jackson notified Charlie Parker, president of the Murfreesboro Little Theater board of directors, that the City had identified "fire and life safety hazards" in the structure and suggested that the performing arts theater cease summer programs at the building, effective immediately. Parker also notified the Board Thursday as well as children enrolled in summer camp improv programs, which were moved to another Murfreesboro Parks location.
The City does not believe upgrades to meet City Codes are a financially viable option for the building.
"Murfreesboro Little Theatre has hosted many programs and community arts events over the years at this site, and a decision like this is never easy and is not taken lightly," Jackson said. "However, the most important factor in our decision is public safety. Our Parks and Recreation Department will be working to assist by providing available space in the immediate future to accommodate their children's summer program and other community art events."
Photo by Christopher Hawkins