$4 Million to Renovate, Bring Performing Arts Center Up to Code

Council held a special meeting to determine future use and potential litigation of property at 311 W. Main St.

The estimated price tag to fix the white elephant in Lansdale at 311 W. Main St. is around $4 million, which includes renovations and bringing the building up to code.

The prime conceptual use of the space presented Tuesday was for the building to be transformed into a community center that can serve all aspects of art.

During a special meeting Tuesday night, it was revealed that the former Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts has a long ways to go before it can be open to the public, and costly repairs are in the future.

The base estimated cost to bring the building into compliance is $239,995.

The base estimated cost of renovations and new construction—including contingency costs and soft costs—is $3.8 million.

The meeting featured two presentations: a building assessment report by Chris Fazio of borough engineers Remington, Vernick & Beach, and a building analysis and recommendations report by architect Scott Malin of Spiezle Group Inc.

There was also an informal public comment period that followed the presentations.

On Aug. 17, borough council will vote to authorize an official task force dedicated to deciding the future use and progress of 311 W. Main St.

Among the most shocking things revealed Tuesday night: The center never had a permanent, official use and occupancy permit.

“We did find a temporary permit, which gave the borough the ability to use the building on a temporary basis,” Fazio said. “The building was being used with a final occupancy permit, and it should not have been in use.”

The building has a total of 38 code violations: 14 accessibility violations, 10 fire rated construction violations, seven electrical system violations, two mechanical system violations and five structural violations.

Among the accessibility violations were:

  • There is a lack of a handicap-accessible entrance.
  • There is a lack of handicap-accessible parking stalls.
  • Sidewalk cross slopes are too steep and severe for accessibility.
  • Bathrooms are not handicap accessible.
  • Existing retail spaces in the building are each required to have public restrooms.
  • The proximity of the adjacent building and the slope and length of an exit path makes it non-code compliant.

There was an exit door on the side of the building into a 3-foot-wide alley. Fazio said that was neither safe nor compliant.

Furthermore, the building was built under building code specifications from 2003. Fazio said the borough now operates under 2009 building code specifications.

As far as fire-rated construction, the building had an exit door on the main floor that leads to a narrow dead end passageway between the building and an adjacent building. There is also a lack of two-hour rated firewalls between the various mixed uses in the buildings.

Furthermore, foam used in sealing and draft stopping appeared to be flammable when introduced to a flame source.

Fazio said there was temporary wiring installed throughout the entire building, and several junction boxes and conduit boxes were not enclosed with covers.

“There is questionable water pressure in the building and lack of a booster pump,” Fazio said. “Any building that goes four stories in the air, and you pump water, you need a booster pump.”

Fazio said the fire suppression system will need to be updated to bring into current compliance.

“Most disturbing was several conductors were in direct contact with the metallic sprinkler piping,” Fazio said.

As far as mechanical systems, there is no heat or ventilation in the unfinished portion of the building. There are also portable space heaters in the building, and Fazio said they cannot be used.

As far as structural, he said waterproofing in the basement was incomplete. While there is a sump pump in the basement, it does not have a battery backup or alarm system.

He said existing internal stairs are “floating.” The stairs require repair and must be secured to an adjacent wall.

Fazio recommended numerous items to council.

He said council should bring in an in-house building code official for efficiency. It should also engage in accurate record keeping of certified plans and inspection reports.

“Do not allow access into the building until the issues are resolved,” he said. “You cannot go into the building.”

He recommended council re-start the process: review the building architecturally, acquire new code complaint plans, have a UCC-certified plan examiner review and approve submitted plans, approve formal building permits for construction, engage a contractor through a public bidding process, and have the borough building code official involved during all aspects of construction and issue a final certificate of occupancy upon completion of all construction activities.

Malin reviewed what is currently good and bad with the space in the building.

A lower-level multipurpose room; the first-floor theater, stage and bathrooms; and at least one stairwell are in good condition.

The problem comes with the use of what is referred to as mercantile and assembly space.

Retail space was designated for the Main Street frontage of the building.

Malin said if a building has mercantile and assembly, then there must be a fire-rated two-hour wall separating the two.

The wall “prevents proper functioning of the assembly side to the mercantile side,” he said.

“It was never leased out as space,” Malin said. “Maybe it’s not best to promote retail there.”

Malin recommended the building be turned into a community center, emphasizing the classroom space, stage, atrium and gallery space.

“There are a lot of nice features to build on,” he said. “It’s an arts center, but you can broaden that term. You can do theatrical productions, as well as musical, as well as artistic things and guest lectures. We want to create very flexible space. We want to create the opportunities for groups to come in and use the building in any number of ways.”

A second-floor large meeting room has the potential to be a huge auditorium, he said.

Removing an elevator from the middle of the building and constructing an elevator at the Madison Lot entrance would give a proper flow to all three floors.

The first floor can be renovated to offer a multipurpose area on the Main Street frontage, with a central ticket booth area for the stage and theater.

There is also a concept to introduce food service to the building on various levels.

Malin touched on structural integrity and he said there may be some anchorage issues behind the exterior terra cotta.

Malin recommended the borough fix code issues and make the building safe. Then, renovate and construct the interior to completion.

“We want to make a downtown destination. This is an asset to the borough,” he said. “It can drive a lot of activity in the borough. You can support restaurants and many other businesses in the downtown.”

A community center, he said, can bring in smaller groups, people coming in for night meetings, groups meeting once a month, educational events, theatrical and artistic events.

“You can make an endless list of activities that can happen in the building,” he said.

Borough Manager Timi Kirchner hoped it was made clear that council and administration took the appropriate course of action by relying on the experts to provide a thorough analysis of the building, “which will be used as a guide for us on the potential future use of what could be an exciting downtown destination.”

“We now have a picture of the possibilities and what kind of investment must be made to make those possibilities a reality,” she said.

Councilwoman Mary Fuller, who also chairs the parks and recreation committee, said there’s a lot of work to be done.

“The bottom line comes with the sticker shock. When you put it into perspective and divide it by 17,000 people … the number sounds big, but when you think about what you get and what it can generate, it gives you a reason to think twice about making the investment,” she said.

The borough is at a negative situation because $4 million has been invested and the doors are closed, earning zero for the borough.

“It’s doing nothing but looking not so nice in the center of our town and certainly not drawing people to it,” she said. “Something critical needs to be done.”

Council President Matt West said the findings of the meeting created “a buzz.”

“That’s what the point of this meeting was: to get the facts out there, where we are, and where we should go from here,” West said. “Forget about the past; let’s define the future.”

Stay tuned later today for more stories from Tuesday night's meeting.

Jennifer S. August 04, 2011 at 11:11 PM
What a joke! Lansdale should sell that "theater" to someone who knows what they are doing. They can't even put level sidewalks in on main street! On another note, how much were those benches? Not like there are any shops to go to anyway. I made the mistake of buying a home in this borough three years ago. My husband and I are in our early 30's with no children, money to spend but with nowhere to go and nothing to do.


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