Carolina Theatre Saves City of Durham $100,000 Through Plaster Conservation Work

July 21, 2020 by Lydia Huth

DURHAM, NC (JULY 23, 2020) — A Carolina Theatre work crew refurbished the infrastructure inside the venue’s historic Fletcher Hall this month and saved the City of Durham more than $100,000 in the process. Members of the theatre’s operations staff have repaired and repainted the ornate crown molding at the top of the elegant 1,000-seat auditorium, restoring the plaster to its full glory.

In early July, construction contractors built a scaffolding structure from the floor of the venue to its 48-foot high ceiling. Theatre staff spent the next week conserving the dentil molding plaster. They applied the painted finish by hand last week. Crews dismantled the scaffolding this week.

Facilities & Production Manager Joey Infinito completed a smaller scale repair of the molding on the north side of the venue’s second balcony in July 2018 as a test of the plaster conservation process. Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc., the nonprofit that operates the city-owned venue, used the successful test to demonstrate that it could complete the necessary conservation work with in-house staff instead of outside plaster contractors. The staff’s work reduced the cost of the project by $100,000, much less than the city’s general services department maintenance replacement project plan for the venue had estimated.

“This is a conservation effort and not a complete restoration. But, the whole thing can be broken down to craft production,” Infinito said. “The molding was installed by master craftsmen in 1926, and needs to be treated and maintained in the same way, with many of the same methods. This is what our crew all studied through arts education and careers in the theatre; The application of craft processes to create a dazzling product!”

Contractors last restored the plaster in the summer of 2011, when the nonprofit shut down the historic venue for months for extensive renovations, including new carpeting and paint. A Fletcher Hall roof leak damaged the plaster after the renovations were complete. The city made an emergency repair on the roof in 2016 and applied a topcoat of sealant in May 2019.

“The plaster repair project is an example of creative problem solving and prudent deployment of in house Carolina Theatre craftsmen. Completing the project during the COVID shutdown has been the perfect time for making lemonade out of lemons,” Jina Propst, Director, City of Durham, General Services Department, said.

Completing the project now also cleared the calendar of the necessary improvements. Now, the venue’s schedule won’t need additional interruption for the work in the future.

“The forced closure of the theatre has gravely impacted our business operations, however if there is a bright spot, it is that our amazingly talented staff has used this time to make necessary repairs to the facility,” Carolina Theatre Interim CEO & President Bethann James said. “We can’t wait to welcome you back to see this and other improvements.”

A round of applause to the following Carolina Theatre staff members who worked on this project:

  • Sr. Director of Operations Jana Woehrle
  • Facilities & Production Manager Joey Infinito
  • Live Events House Manager Bonnie Brown
  • Crew Member Willie Eaddy
  • Operations Coordinator Jordan Wade
  • Technical Staffer Josh Keeney
  • Technical Staffer Michael Parks

The Carolina Theatre looks forward to welcoming guests back to Fletcher Hall and the cinemas. It will do so only when public health experts believe it’s safe to open the doors to the public.

See more photos here.