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311. W Main St. Task Force: The Building (video)

Part two of three stories on the inaugural meeting of the 311 W. Main Street Task Force

got a reprisal Tuesday night from Scott Malin, senior associate of Spiezle Architects, on the code violations inside the building at 311 W. Main St., and possible conceptual ideas for what the property could become in the future.

“Our codes department went into the building, and essentially determined there are code issues in the building,” said borough manager Timi Kirchner. “Two questions were asked: Can and should the building be opened to the public? Are there any significant issues with regard to life and safety?”

Kirchner said a report by engineers Remington, Vernick and Beach determined there were 39 code violations found in the building: 14 dealing with accessibility; 10 with fire-rated construction; seven with electrical; two with mechanical; and five related to structural.

“The total cost of fixing this, keeping it as is, is between $240,000 and $400,000, depending on options,” Kirchner said. “The bottom line was do not allow access until all code-related items are recognized and restart the process. The first part of that is to review the building architecturally.”

Malin revived the presentation he gave to the public on August 2. You can view the story about that presentation here.

Spiezle Architects, Malin said, has been hired by the borough to conduct a facilities study of the town. The study on the arts center was accelerated because of the real issues there.

Malin said his firm has a whole team of consultants on board, including structural, mechanical, electrical, civil and maintenance engineers.

“We will bring all skill sets to the building to come up with what could this building become and we see it as a great destination to enhance the downtown experiences here,” Malin said. “The building had a lot going for it. We did see a lot of code problems, but we saw a lot of advantages and opportunities as well.”

He said if the borough fixes it, then there are opportunities to make it wonderful.

“What you see here is one vision,” he said of the presentation, “but it will help guide you as far as what the constraints of the building are. It has some issues as far as dimensions and heights, but it has a lot going for it as well.”

Malin said the

That price tag includes $2.8 million for new construction and improvements, $250,000 for façade improvements, $300,000 for contingencies and $450,000 for soft costs.

The overall idea, he said, is to create a community center for the town.

With a concept of making two auditoriums in the building, task force member Lindsay Schweriner asked how many seats could be in the second-floor auditorium.

Malin said it has room to seat about 300 to 350 people; the larger auditorium is only about 50 percent larger than the first-floor space.

“It’s not going to be a 1,000-seat auditorium,” he said. “The building is just not big enough. Two people on August 2 suggested that’s what we need, but you need a different building to do that.”

Malin said he saw the larger auditorium as a multi-purpose space that would serve as a site for galas and dinners.

“With a full-fly stage, you could also have a full theatrical performance, a full musical performance, with drop-down acoustic panels and projecting panels,” he said.

Ex-officio member Brian O’Leary, of the county planning commission, questioned about walking from the lower level to the first floor in the back of the property without facing obstructions from walls.

Malin said the concept is drawn to allow people access to an elevator, but there could be away to open up the space.

“You have to be careful that you don’t have two open staircases and one closed staircase on any floor,” he said. “We would violate the 50 percent rule. You can have two out of three, but not one out of two. But the elevator does connect the levels.”

Task force vice chairman was concerned that the only decorative part of the façade is for the fire escape stairwell onto Main Street. He said the concept showed one entrance into the building, which was also a concern.

Malin said that wasn’t the case: about 40 percent of the façade is the entry, with a small portion taking up the fire exit.

“We felt one entry point is easier to monitor and control,” Malin said.

Task force member Doug Pett asked about the square footage of the building without the addition. Malin said he wasn’t sure of that number.

Malin estimated about 9,000 square feet per floor plate. About 3,750 square feet of that would be new construction for two conceptual auditoriums.

Pett wanted to know about the occupiable load factor of the building.

The load factor is the percentage of space on a floor that is not usable, expressed as a percent of usable area.

Malin said the conceptual smaller auditorium could handle 300 plus another 50 on stage. Stairwell doorways could handle about 165, he said.

“The only floor we would add is basement to first floor. The basement has its own stair at the front, and it may impact the egress door at Main Street,” Malin said. “The basement load is small. We don’t have to add second and first floors together.”

Ex-officio member Nancy DeLucia, of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, said it was a great design.

“My question is about how this informs the work of the task force and whether this is a flexible design – just one idea – or if this is what a consultant will be working with?” she said.

Kirchner said it was one idea that gives a visual of possibilities.

“With an open process,” DeLucia said, “there would be many ideas that don’t quite fit here.”

Task force chairman Mike Sobel said there would be many ideas to channel into one common vision.

“This is a conception. This is not written in stone,” he said. “We’re not saying this is absolutely what this is going to be. We don’t know that yet. This is the beginning of the process.”

O’Leary said it comes across as very much a performing arts layout.

“Perhaps something else, maybe fine arts, may change things very much,” he said.

Resident Ed Scheuring asked if the roof could be raised to provide a balcony level on the second floor.

Malin said it’s possible, but there would be a lot of issues to address with it, one being the egress aspect.

“You could not make it accessible given the elevator placement,” he said. “But it’s possible to do. In our mind, you are going to need mechanical space (for the elevator) whether it’s on the roof or enclosed. But I think it could be revisited.”

Resident Will Liegel rehashed the idea of a 1,000-seat auditorium, and made a statement that Sobel agreed with 100 percent.

“I go to Sellersville Theater, on occasion, and it seats about 300 people. I’ve seen great acts where there are 50, 70, 100 people there and that’s it,” he said. “There’s something nice about an intimate audience. Big isn’t necessarily better.”

Janet Herman Karll November 03, 2011 at 06:12 PM
I am an usher at the Sellersville Theatre, it seats 300, most weekend nights, it's nearly filled to capacity depending on the artists. The crowd of 300 is a good number of people, not overwhelming, and still enough to be intimate.

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