As you know, we had hoped that the reopening of the Chester Playhouse would have been an exciting highlight for your summer. The tragic fire on June 11th ended that dream, for the time being.
While we were working with our insurance company and others to determine next steps, we hope you enjoyed and followed our “Playhouse without Walls” summer season. Executive Director Andrew Chandler and his team managed to shift summer presentations to a range of locations, outdoors and indoors. Reeny Smith captivated at the Chester United Baptist Church with her incredible vocals and instrumentation, the Town Heroes brought Cape Breton stories to life through their performance at the Chester Legion, we helped our friends at the Chester Drama Society present a sold-out production of Shorts & Suites, fifteen youth dazzled friends and family with their singing and choreography at the end of a five-day Broadway Boot Camp, The Princess Bride filled a movie screen in Lordly park, author Dean Jobb spoke of researching a true crime, and finally the Playhouse on Pleasant Street brought our community together for a showcase of professional musical talent in the heart of the Village of Chester.
Thank you for supporting the intense, short season! Your donations and attendance made it possible.
The most important question now facing the Playhouse, and the community, is whether or not we can rebuild.
Here is what we know:
The specific cause of the June 11th fire may not be determined due to the extent of the damage at the back of the attic where it started.
The Playhouse building was insured and the total of the insurance proceeds, restoration funds not spent at the the time of the fire, and equipment and other furnishings in storage are sufficient to rebuild the Playhouse to our existing plans. Our insurer has sourced detailed estimates and recommends rebuilding upon the salvaged remaining structure and foundation.
However the challenge in front of us is that we have been advised by the Municipal Building Inspector (who is the authority having jurisdiction regarding fire protection requirements) that any rebuild of the playhouse must now incorporate a sprinkler system. This was not a requirement for the original restoration project, which, importantly, did add fire protection enhancements throughout the building and which potentially limited damage to nearby properties.
A sprinkler system is not feasible. It requires a significant flow of water and, in the absence of a public water supply, this would have to be furnished by a 50,000-gallon (approx.) cistern and emergency diesel pumping system. The estimated 40’ x 60’ x 100’ cistern cannot be accommodated on our property and options such as acquiring adjacent land, if available, are beyond our financial means.
To overcome this obstacle we have engaged recognized experts in fire protection consulting and engineering to identify alternative Code compliance solutions for fire protection. Once we receive their report, assuming that alternative compliance solutions are possible, it is our intention to pursue approval for a rebuilding plan that incorporates these elements. We are working as fast as this complex situation allows, and hope to have a direction by the end of October.
Your questions and feedback over the past two months have focused on our insurance situation, which we have answered above, and on the potential consideration of an alternative site for the Playhouse. There are many reasons why a different site could be attractive, but it is important to note that the same challenge related to access to public water for a sprinkler system would apply. A new site would also require a comprehensive feasibility plan, adding years and costs.
We believe that the best and only path before us at this point is to do everything we can to rebuild the Playhouse we were on the verge of delivering to the community with its vast improvements over its prior incarnation, many of them safety related. It is imperative that we overcome the roadblocks quickly and move the project forward. Please be assured that our goals include working with municipal/provincial fire protection authorities to rebuild a safe Chester Playhouse for all staff and patrons.
You have invested in this important project as donors, patrons, champions and more. Thank you for your ongoing patience. We will update you as soon as we have clarity on the path forward, and will bring you into the conversation for guidance and input.
The Playhouse continues to be an active organization with a mandate to deliver professional, community and youth performing arts programming in Chester. The “Playhouse Without Walls” model will be our focus for serving you during the period of rebuilding and we will need to rely on your continuing enthusiasm, ideas and financial support to sustain the Playhouse.
We look forward to sharing live performances with you this fall.
Susan Crocker and Liz Crocker, Board Co-Chairs – On behalf of the Board of Directors, Chester Theatre Council Society.