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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Late, Great Douglass High School Auditorium, Part 1

At one time, most of us stood on its stage reciting our poems.. scared to death, but confident that we were only talking to family.

Other times saw many of us walk across the stage to get our "perfect attendance" certificate, or better yet, our "graduation diploma" promoting us to the next grade.

And even a few brave souls belted out a solo or chorus song, or delivered the important line in a play.. again, we were only talking to family.

Those are all images of the beloved Douglass Auditorium, a special part of the former Douglass High School, that the City of Kingsport has announced, will not be included in renovations that begin in September.

"We hired a fire codes consultant, who used to work in the state Fire Marshall's Office," says architect Dineen West. "We also had an electrical, mechanical and plumbing engineer, plus an asbestos architect go through the auditorium thoroughly."

"The news they came back with, was not good."

"Inside the auditorium in the back of the balcony," she says, "the inside wall is actually peeling away from the outside wall. In that same location, bricks are
peeling off the walls onto the ground. We suspect that is caused by water seeping through roof leaks and freezing in the wintertime. Ice always expands, which moved the bricks and the wall apart. When the ice melted, the gap remained, causing the bricks to crumble and pop off. That process was repeated over several winters before anyone noticed it."

"Another problem is asbestos," says Mrs. West, "lots of it. The entire auditorium ceiling is filled with it, and so are the walls. Not only would the asbestos have to be removed, but the roof would have to be replaced after the removal."

Turns out, there are also problems that are invisible to the eye.

"The stairwells to the balcony at the back of the auditorium," she says, are too narrow. They don't meet the new state codes for ingress and egress from one floor to another. The stairwells probably got 'grandfathered' in on that years ago,
because if an inspector had seen that when the new codes went in, he'd have required them to be widened, or he'd have ordered access to the balcony closed until they were
widened. That would have reduced the space at the auditorium entrance."

"Problem Number Four is exiting the front of the auditorium," Mrs. West says. "In case of a fire in the back, you'd have to jump up onto the stage to exit the only doors that open outside, and that is not legal. The state says, you really shouldn't be going up on the stage just to get out. There is no legal exit directly to the outside from in front of the stage, as the new codes require. Those little curved steps on either side of the stage are themselves a hazard in case of a fire."

"And then, there is the boiler.. specifically, the location of it," she says. "The inspector took one look at it located directly underneath the stage, and said 'that's a no-no.' He says, if there were a boiler malfunction, that would be a
disaster. As it is now, he says it's 'a disaster waiting to happen."

"That brings up the problem of heating and cooling," says Mrs. West. "There is none in the auditorium, and state code requires that."

"We also have a problems with people circulation," she says, from the non-profit agencies in the new tower, to the board-community-meeting room they'll share with the Douglass Alumni Association. If the tower were built where we had planned it,
those non-profits would either have to come through the auditorium to get to the room, or go outside and come in from the courtyard. Either of those options are not practical.. they'd be cut off from the rest of the building."

"After all the recommendations came back," says Mrs. West, "we started thinking, well if we fixed all of those problems, where would we be in funding? The cost just wasn't justifiable, considering the other renovations for the building."