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Sprinklers most pressing need for Egyptian

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – The group that operates the Egyptian Theatre is forgoing a long-sought air-conditioning system in favor of a fire sprinkler system so the theater can continue hosting the Amenti Haunted House.

To that end, the theater needs the DeKalb City Council to reallocate $474,080 already earmarked for the theater to pay for the installation and plaster repairs.

The nonprofit group Preservation of the Egyptian Theatre was hoping to pay only $450,000 for an air-conditioning system, but the lowest bid came in at $1.5 million. Meanwhile, the Illinois State Fire Marshal has stopped granting special waivers to the Egyptian. Haunted houses are required to be fitted with an automatic sprinkler system.

“I think it’s a wise move, given how the cost of the air-conditioning has come in much higher than anticipated,” City Manager Mark Biernacki said. “Meanwhile there’s a life-safety issue that needs to be addressed.”

After replacing its sound system and auditorium seating, the Egyptian had $374,080 remaining in its budget from the city’s tax increment financing account for this year. The theater was slated to receive another $100,000 in tax increment proceeds from the city in fiscal 2013.

Alex Nerad, executive director of the theater, said a sprinkler system has been on their to-do list for a while, but the cost of installing one had been prohibitive until now.

“We want to protect the thousands of people that come through here every year, but also protecting this treasure we have here in DeKalb,” Nerad said.

Nerad said parts of the theater already have sprinklers, including the stage, dressing room and mechanical basement. Because of those systems, the theater will not have to pay more for the water service, Nerad added.

The fire marshal’s rule allows for a temporary sprinkler setup for temporary haunted houses, however, but Nerad said its only a matter of time before they will be required in the Egyptian and elsewhere.

“At this point, we’re not required by fire code for the rest of the year to have a sprinkler system in place,” Nerad said. “But the writing is on the wall for that.”

In the past, the theater has paid off-duty DeKalb firefighters to serve as monitors during the Amenti Haunted House at a cost of $3,300.

“It’s quite an additional cost to incur for a fundraising event,” Nerad said, adding that DeKalb firefighters always inspect the haunted house.

The Amenti Haunted House is the Egyptian Theatre’s biggest fundraiser – city documents put the theater’s average net revenue at $25,000 a year.

“Thousands of people are able to go through it each year and they’re able to enjoy it,” Nerad said.

If the DeKalb City Council fully approved the funding, Nerad estimated the installation to take three to four months. He said he wants installation done in a way so that sprinklers look like they have always been a part of the building.

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