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Theater repairs may take months

May 02, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The Capitol Theatre could be closed for weeks or perhaps months until it is inspected and repaired following the collapse of a section of ceiling Saturday night that injured several people.

One of the injured, Sharon Horst, 52, of Chambersburg, was taken to York (Pa.) Hospital where she was in satisfactory condition Sunday, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

"She has multiple fractures of the right leg," her aunt, Joyce Horst, said Sunday.

"Sharon and I, we practically grew up together," said Horst, who said her mentally-handicapped niece lives in a group home. She said Sharon Horst's caregiver was also injured when the section of the ceiling fell into the seats during a performance of the Chambersburg Community Theatre's "Salute to Education."

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"We've got a long way to go ... It's going to be rough," Horst said of her niece's recovery. Joyce Horst said she works in the box office of the 78-year-old theater, but was not present when the accident occurred.

Holly Rego of Chambersburg was treated in the emergency room of Chambersburg Hospital and discharged, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Her stepson, Josh Rego of Fayetteville, Pa., said Sunday that she was back home. He said Rego works as a caregiver.

Witnesses said the ceiling section came down without warning, falling on seats toward the rear of the left front section. Shirley Kennedy of Chambersburg said she and her husband, John, were there to see relatives perform in the variety show when she heard the crash.

"We thought it was part of the performance ... We turned around and you could see all the dust" she said. "Then everybody started screaming 'Get out of the theater.'"

She said several people went to the aid of the injured women, while the other audience members evacuated the theater.

Chambersburg Emergency Services Chief John Vanlandingham said six or seven people other than Horst and Rego had less serious injuries when the section of ceiling, measuring approximately 4 feet wide by 10 feet long, fell at about 9 p.m.

"I feel terribly for the people injured ... Buildings can be fixed," said Paul Cullinane, president of Downtown Chambersburg Inc., which owns the Capitol Theatre Center at 159 S. Main St. "Another 30 minutes and everyone would probably have been gone," he said at about midnight Saturday.

Vanlandingham said a building code inspector examined the ceiling from the attic Saturday night. On Sunday, Vanlandingham said the cause of what appears to be a structural failure was not known, but there was no water damage to the ceiling that might have increased the weight to the point it failed.

South Main Street in front of the theater was blocked off for about three hours while fire and ambulance personnel took care of the injured and had the inspector go through the theater.

"He basically closed the theater, and they're going to have a structural engineer come in early in the week," Vanlandingham said. The damage will have to be inspected, repaired and then reinspected before the theater can reopen, he said.

While the 852-seat theater is closed, the rest of the Capitol Theatre Center will remain open, Cullinane said Sunday.

The rest of the center was built in 2002, although the theater itself has undergone many renovations since Downtown Chambersburg purchased it in 1996 for $115,000, he said. The ceiling, however, is original to the theater, built in 1927, he said.

"Looking at the debris, it appeared to pull right through the nails," Cullinane said. The ceiling section is made of fiberboard coated in plaster and he estimated it to be about two inches thick.

"My feeling is the whole ceiling is going to have to come down and we're going to start over," he said. "We've never had the money to do something like that and we still don't," but he believes the community will support the effort.

The Capitol Theatre Center, including the theater, had been inspected from attic to basement by an insurance company interested in bidding for the insurance, Cullinane said. No concerns were brought to his attention from the inspection, he said.

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