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Theater Construction: What’s in the works?

Updated: Jun 1

By Deanna Ryan

To build or not to build has been the question regarding the Karrh Community Arts Center (formerly known as the Dixie Theater) for over six years. The first fund raiser, states Jacquie Brasher, director of the Emanuel Arts Council, was held in March of 2017. Around that time a request for proposals (RFP) was put out for renovating the theater. For various reasons the project stalled. Another RFP was released in 2021 and DPR Architecture came on board to create plans, while BAK was chosen for construction of both the theater and the Gumlog gym.

A theater committee has been meeting since slightly before then to raise money to renovate the defunct theater. That committee has changed over the years, but the desire to have a fully functional theater that could house live performances and a movie screen remains constant among those looking for activities for the young and young-at-heart alike.

After much consideration and debate, Swainsboro city council voted in last month’s regular meeting to move forward with BAK construction building the theater. According to Mayor Greg Bennett, funding for construction, $500,000 from ARPA funds and 1 million from other donations, will fuel the change set to begin on June 12, 2023.

The Crossroads Chronicle interviewed DPR Architecture principal architect, Kevin Palmer, to find out more about the renovated theater plans.

What is a theater without a stage? According to Palmer, the new main stage will be extended causing it to be larger than the original one allowing the building to house live performances. There will also be a drop down screen for movies. The audio-visual equipment is not in the architects’ line of work. There will be a men’s and woman’s dressing room off the stage.

Along with the stage there will be a seating area and a balcony. The seating area will connect to the loft space at the Kalmonson Gallery via a door and will hold about 250 seats. The old seats will remain, though refurbished. Palmer states, “We’re leaving the balcony, so it is going to remain open. A portion of the area will be turned into a pre-function area. Behind the seats, tables and chairs will be available for hors d’oeuvres.” There will also be a concession area to be leased out after the theater is built. Bathrooms will be built designed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

The walls will contain as much exposed ornamental, original brick as possible. Sound dampeners will be placed strategically on the walls to control any echoes. The ceiling too will remain exposed and acoustical clouds will hang to help transfer sound.

The lobby will be “dressed up a good bit. We’ll have the exposed wood trusses and arched barrel-vaulted ceiling along with exposed brick. Anywhere that we’re not keeping it original, we’re going towards an art deco look to harken back to the heyday of the theater,” explains Palmer.

To get an idea of the overall look, community members can view the Tybee Post Theater which was also constructed by DPR. Like the Post Theater, the Karrh Center will contain some of the old shell of the original theater recreating memories of the past for some community members.

A few add ons are not included in the building plans under construction. The marquee is one of them, so are stage curtains and all of the audio-visual equipment. Look for another round of appeals to finish funding the theater and the Gumlog gym in the future. Anyone interested in making a donation should contact Mayor Greg Bennett.

The project could be completed in 12 months barring back order on construction materials.

New art deco lobby mock up

Possible new marquee (not fully funded yet)

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