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

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 repaired and repainted the ornate crown molding at the top of the elegant 1,000-seat auditorium, restoring the plaster to its full glory.

During the first week of July, construction contractors built out a full 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. Combined crews dismantled the scaffolding this week.

See images of the work and scaffolding are viewable on the venue's Facebook page. High resolution photos are available upon request.

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. The successful test allowed Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc., the nonprofit that operates the city-owned venue, to demonstrate the necessary conservation work could be completed with in-house staff instead of outside plaster contractors. This effort reduced the cost of the plaster work by $100,000 less than it was originally listed on the city's general services department maintenance replacement project plan for the venue.

"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 historic venue shut down for months so that extensive renovations, including new carpeting, paint and other infrastructure improvements, could be completed. 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 plaster conservation work during the closing of the building mandated by the ongoing public health emergency also cleared the calendar of the necessary work so that the venue’s schedule won’t need additional interruption 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."

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About The Carolina Theatre:

Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization managing the city-owned Carolina Theatre at 309 W. Morgan Street, Durham, NC 27701. Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc. seeks to drive the cultural, educational and economic vitality of the region. Find out more at carolinatheatre.org.