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Tech Working to Find Space for Theatre

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Following the recent Russellville Fire Department report on the condition of the theatre workshop inside the Techionery and the subsequent closing of that workshop, Arkansas Tech University administrators and faculty members are working together to find a safe and suitable location for theatre students to continue their academic work. 
“Our dean, department head and theatre faculty members in the College of Arts and Humanities have engaged in numerous meetings to find a short-term solution for the space needs of our theatre students,” said Dr. John W. Watson, vice president for academic affairs. “This process is a challenging one because of the specialized space needs involved. It is not as simple as finding an empty classroom.

“However, I have full confidence in the ability of our administration and faculty to arrive at a workable solution and ensure an orderly transition,” continued Watson. “One of our foremost concerns is to avoid moving equipment from one unsafe area and creating another unsafe area elsewhere on campus.”
The theatre workshop inside the Techionery was closed on Sept. 15 after a report by the Russellville Fire Department found obstructed emergency exits, unsafe storage of combustible materials, dangerous stairways with inadequate or non-existent handrails, excessive temporary and substandard wiring, evidence of welding conditions that do not meet the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code and stage construction that does not meet standard engineering practices.
Concurrent to its efforts to arrive at a short-term solution to the space needs of the program, Arkansas Tech is planning to conduct a thorough review of its theatre program.
The review will include an assessment of the Techionery theatre workshop by representatives of the Arkansas Tech Physical Plant Department, an examination of policies and procedures for the use of any potentially dangerous set construction equipment and an evaluation of the Arkansas Tech Department of Speech, Theatre and Journalism by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
“The number one responsibility of Arkansas Tech is to provide a safe learning environment for our students,” said Watson. “It is regrettable that the condition of the Techionery theatre workshop has deteriorated to the point that it must be closed. It is equally regrettable that plans provided by the administration some 10 years ago to construct a black box theater were rejected by the theatre program.”
Watson said that once the plans for the black box theater fell through, Arkansas Tech refocused its plans for embellishing its fine arts programs. As a result, the university constructed the 25,000-square foot Robert and Sandra Norman Center for the Fine Arts in 2006.
Norman Hall, as the facility is more commonly referred to, offers art students “one of the finest facilities of its kind in the state,” said Watson.
Arkansas Tech has plans to invest upwards of $500,000 in renovations to Witherspoon Auditorium and new equipment for its music program during the current academic year.
“Our track record as an institution, both historically and in recent years, shows a clear dedication to preserving and promoting the arts on our campus,” said Watson. “With that said, we also have a responsibility to the people of Arkansas to invest wisely when allocating resources. We have averaged five graduates per year from our theatre program over the past six years.”
There are currently 30 theatre majors at Arkansas Tech. That represents 0.3 percent of the university’s 10,464 students.

Click here to view a PDF of the Russellville Fire Department report concerning the theatre workshop.

Click here to see photos demonstrating some of the concerns raised in the RFD report.