Sprinkler project a go at historic Palace Theater

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Phillips Payson, executive director of the Palace Theater, stands in the theater’s lobby Monday. A sprinkler system improvement project is underway at the Palace.

HILO — Fire safety improvements are underway at the historic Palace Theater in downtown Hilo, and once that work is completed focus can turn to a long-awaited air conditioning project.

Phillips Payson, who recently took the reins as executive director, said earlier this week that the theater was working to secure the final $20,000 needed for a sprinkler improvement project, “which is currently holding us up from the AC.”

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The Palace exceeded a $10,000 goal set for its inaugural Giving Tuesday campaign on Dec. 3, which earned the theater a matching $10,000 donation from a board member to complete the funding for the sprinkler project.

In 2017, the Palace was awarded $130,000 in state-funded grants for the air conditioning project, but while going through the permitting process it was learned the theater would have to pass a fire inspection.

That inspection took place in the summer of 2018, but fire safety concerns brought the project to a halt.

Payson said a big part of the work is replacing all existing sprinkler heads as well as building new sections of piping in areas not covered by the original sprinkler system.

“So we’re working closely with the fire department to get the whole system operating up to code of today’s standards,” he said.

According to Payson, the sprinkler project will cost about $90,000. Work began in late November.

“So we’re fresh into this process,” he said. “We’re still waiting on one more permit to get approved to work on one last bit of the system before we can get the whole thing up and running.”

Payson said he’s hopeful that permit will be approved shortly. Once the final permit is in place, work will only take days to complete.

Once the work on the sprinkler system is complete and approved by the fire department, the theater will be granted full capacity again, he said.

Currently, the theater is at a restricted capacity of 299 people. Full capacity is 485.

“So that would be a huge relief to not only us, but presenters that are coming through and putting on shows in partnership with us,” Payson said. “We (can) fill the house again and keep going towards the goal of putting in our air conditioning, which we were on the cusp of doing before the sprinkler system reared its head. We’re hoping 2020 can be the year to get it up and running.”

Payson said the theater is “assessing our funds right now” for the air conditioning effort, which has been a long-standing fundraising campaign.

The theater has a majority of funds for that project and will be able to step into the first phase of its construction as soon as it receives permission, dependent on the fire department and sprinkler system, he said.

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“I learned not to count my chickens before sunset, so I will be happy when the sprinkler system is complete and we’re granted full capacity and construction has started on the AC,” Payson said. “It’s been a long and bumpy road, but we’re going to get there, and I know the community has been nothing but patient and supportive, so we’re hoping that their support continues through this time of renovation, and we’ll bring cool air to the people.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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