Workers from East Tennessee Sprinkler Co. began work at the McKinney Cultural Arts Center Monday and are expected to complete the sprinkler system by Aug. 2. (Sue Guinn Legg/ Johnson City Press)
On the request of the state fire marshal, limited programming that was to be offered at Jonesborough’s new McKinney Cultural Center Arts Center during the final weeks of the building’s renovation will remain at their existing off-site locations.
Installation of the center’s sprinkler systems and sidewalks to its side and back exits needed for the fire marshal’s approval for occupancy got under way on Monday and is expected to be completed within the next two weeks. Work on the last of the building’s classrooms is also progressing and is expected to wrap up in three to four weeks.
“As to a timeline, we’re hoping by mid-August we’ll be ready to open formally,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said.
While the state gave its approval to a plan for the town to have firefighters and fire trucks present during several large gatherings already held at the center, Browning said, “From the fire marshal’s standpoint, we’ve probably pushed that as far as we can.”
An estimated crowd of 400 people attended an opening gala held at the center May 24 to kick off its first exhibit, the Jonesborough Juried Art Show which remained open at the center through June 14.
While June 21 and 22 presentations of the center’s youth drama classes’ “Willy Wonka Junior” drew smaller crowds to the center, Browning said firefighters and their equipment were also present for those presentations and “every step toward safety was taken for the large groups.”
It was a June 17 rehearsal for the “Willy Wonka” production conducted while construction was under way that caught an inspector’s attention and prompted a letter from the fire marshal’s office requesting on-site programming be halted until the sprinkler system and sidewalks are in place.
“There are three critical issues,” Browning said, the sprinkler system, sidewalks to the emergency exits and connection of the sprinklers to the alarm system already installed in the building.
“The sprinkler system has to be finished before (the alarm connection) can be done,” Browning said. “The connection won’t take long.”
In the meantime, programs offered through the center’s Mary B. Martin Performing Arts Program will be held at off-site locations, including a Children’s Drifting Theater Camp production to be presented Friday and Saturday at the Jonesborough Repertory Theater.
Center Director Bridgette Ward said the summer arts program schedule included eight to ten camps, classes and workshops conducted at the JRT, the International Storytelling Center, the Jonesborough Visitors Center and Jonesborough United Methodist Church. The fall schedule will begin in September at the McKinney Center has been expand to include 10 to 15 arts programs, Ward said.
Browning noted renovations to the former Booker T. Washington School building, built in the 1920s for Jonesborough’s African American students, has been completed primarily by skilled prison work crews with “a huge savings” to the town but also with “some delays.”
“Since the informal opening we had in May, the facility has had a great response from people that shows the need for it,” he said.