Pa. theater reopening still months away

June 07, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A decision could come within the week on whether to repair or replace the ceiling of The Capitol Theatre, but the reopening of the 78-year-old theater is still months away, said Paul Cullinane, president of Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

The theater at 159 S. Main St. has been closed since April -- when a section of the ceiling measuring about 4 feet by 10 feet fell during a performance by a local theater group. Several people had minor injuries, and one woman was hospitalized in York (Pa.) Hospital.

Sharon Horst, 52, of Chambersburg was in the hospital about three weeks with injuries to her legs, said her aunt, Joyce Horst. She was released about two weeks ago, but still has a cast on her right leg, said Joyce Horst, who works in the Capitol Theatre box office.


"I don't have the final answer, but we've been talking to plaster contractors, painting contractors and scaffolding contractors," Cullinane said Monday.

The board of directors for Downtown Chambersburg Inc., which owns the historic theater, has the final say on which of two options will be selected.

One is to completely remove and replace the old ceiling, Cullinane said. The other is to replace or repair any weakened sections and reanchor the entire 5,400-square-foot theater ceiling, along with 4,400 square feet of balcony and lobby ceilings, he said.

"The plasterers think this is a good ceiling and it can be anchored and repaired to everyone's comfort level," he said.

"The structural engineer still doesn't know why it happened," Cullinane said of the accident. "The nails didn't pull out. The nails are still up there," he said.

Cullinane said the engineer determined the ceiling and roof supports are sound. The ceiling panels are rock lathe, compressed sheets of gypsum with plaster coating, he said.

How long it will take to reopen the theater will depend in part on what fix the board decides on and the schedules of contractors, he said.

"To repair this and repaint it could easily take three to four months," he said. Replacing the ceiling would take longer, he said.

Five plastering and five painting contractors are expected to submit estimates for the work, he said.

"Most of them are telling me it will be late July before they can start," although at least one could begin this month, he said.

The project would begin with scaffolding topped by a floor about 7 feet below the ceiling, he said. The contractor would test each section of ceiling to determine if it should be replaced, said Cullinane.

New anchors for the entire ceiling would be screwed in about every foot, if the board decides on repairing rather than replacing the ceiling, he said. A skim layer of plaster would then be applied and the ceiling repainted.

Cullinane said the ceiling likely will be painted to copy the 1927 design, which is somewhat different from the design applied when it was last painted in 1948.

Cullinane said he will not speculate about the cost while contractor estimates are still coming in and before a decision has been made.

Cullinane said he wants "to have the right number" before beginning a campaign to raise money to pay for repairs.

Shows that were booked by the theater through Oct. 28 have been relocated, according to a box office flier. Information on shows and their new venues are available on the theater Web site at

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