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McKinney Center closed to public at request of state fire marshal

A state fire marshal has requested the Town of Jonesborough refrain from holding any more activities at the McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School until a certificate of occupancy is issued.
The request stems from Deputy State Fire Marshal Rick Talley’s visit last month to the facility, which is being renovated from a former school for African Americans into a cultural arts center.
In a construction progress inspection report dated June 17, Talley stated he completed a walkthrough of the facility and noted that work on installing a fire alarm and sprinkler system was ongoing as well as work on electrical and plumbing within the building.
In his report, Talley also noted that he witnessed children inside the building practicing for a play and work being done on sets for that play.
Talley reportedly told town leaders as long as the building is under construction, it could not be occupied.
The facility has been opened to the public, however, on multiple occasions since May.
More than 400 people came to the facility on May 24, when the town hosted an opening night of a juried art show there. The show ushered in hundreds more as it remained open to the public through mid-June.
While a theater workshop for children was conducted at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, rehearsals for the youth performances were conducted at the McKinney Center.
Even after Talley’s report on June 17, the center was opened to the public for actual performances of “Willy Wonka Junior” on June 21-22.
Six performances of the production took place over the two-day period at the McKinney Center, with a total of 288 tickets sold, according to a supervisor’s report filed on July 1 by McKinney Center Director Bridgette Ward for review by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. They included approximately 35 cast and crew members, most of whom were children, as well as several volunteers to help run the event.
According to Town Administrator Bob Browning, the state fire marshal gave the town permission to hold the play at the McKinney Center as planned as long as a firefighter was present for each performance.
“After that, he said we needed to stop,” Browning said. “It was sort of stretching the envelope.”
Browning emphasized that there was “never a safety issue” at the site because the town had a firefighter there during the public events, including the opening reception of the art show.
“We did take the steps to make sure people were protected,” Browning said. “But it is possible they would have had an issue with (the art show) taking place. I can’t say for sure.”
The town now must get the certificate of occupancy from the state fire marshal before the facility can be reopened. To do so, the fire alarm and sprinkler system must be completely installed and a sidewalk must be finished to allow pedestrian access around the entire building, Browning said.
The state fire marshal will then conduct another inspection to decide if the certificate of occupancy should be issued.
Browning said a company is scheduled to install sprinklers in the facility this week. The project is expected to take one to two weeks to complete, he said.
“Hopefully, we can have it back open in a couple weeks,” Browning said.
A reunion for the McKinney family, for whom the facility is named, was scheduled to take place at the center July 14. That event was moved to the Jonesborough Visitors Center.
In a supervisor report filed in the BMA packet by Parks and Recreation Director Rachel Conger, she noted that she planned to take the 100-150 family members coming to the reunion on a tour of the McKinney Center.
Browning, however, said no such tour would be permitted.
“We won’t be able to open it up for anybody,” he said.