Expanded Basement in Robinson Grand doable, officials say

By Jim Davis, Staff Writer, The Exponent Telegram, August 29, 2015

Staff Photo by Jim Davis

Staff Photo by Jim Davis

CLARKSBURG — A geotechnical report supports the construction of dressing rooms in the basement of the former Robinson Grand Theater, city and project officials said Friday.  While recent core drillings found the water table to be high, engineers will design a gravity-fed drainage system to divert water from the proposed basement, said James Swiger, president of WYK Associates.

The soil, meanwhile, is sandy, so the design team will come up with the appropriate foundation, Swiger said.  “We’ve got the information we need to design the new dressing rooms for the basement,” Swiger said.

City Manager Martin Howe said the report’s findings are encouraging.  “The report provided valuable information to allow us to properly plan and design for the future renovations and expansion of the theater,” Howe said.

The city purchased the Robinson Grand last year for $430,000.  Restoring the city landmark into a regional cultural facility is one of the city’s goals for reviving downtown.  Through the Clarksburg Municipal Building Commission, the city is in the process of pursuing a $6 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finance the project.

WYK Associates is heading up the design of the proposed restorations under a $1.4 million contract with the city.  Expanding the dressing rooms in the basement is a critical component of the restoration, Howe and Swiger said.  The current dressing rooms are below the stage, and the core drillings were done last month to see if the rooms could be extended beneath the seating area.  “This expansion of the basement will allow for state-of-the-art dressing rooms and storage areas for various productions,” Howe said.  “The current dressing rooms are not usable,” Howe said. “They’re antiquated and not up to today’s standards. And there really is no adequate storage for any type of production.”

The water encountered during the core drillings was below the depth of the proposed basement, Swiger said.  “But the water level fluctuates throughout the year, and we want to make sure we design appropriately for that,” Swiger said.  The design team is planning a drain in the back of the theater that would feed into one of the existing catch basins downslope from the structure, Swiger said.  That would eliminate the need for sump pumps, Swiger said. There is a sump pump in the current dressing room below the stage.  “We’ll also need to waterproof the walls when we build the basement,” he added.

As for the soil, the sandy makeup is “pretty much what’s under all of Clarksburg,” Swiger said.  “We just have to make sure we design foundations for the soil conditions,” Swiger said.  Other construction planned at the theater includes a loading dock, mechanical equipment platform and exit stairway in the back.  “We’re good to go with that as well,” Swiger said.

The Robinson Grand Theater opened Feb. 5, 1913, according to Dorothy Davis’ “History of Harrison County.”  A fire gutted the building in 1939, but the owners at the time restored the theater in 1939-40 for $600,110.  The theater was known as the Rose Garden before it closed several years ago.

Staff writer Jim Davis can be reached at (304) 626-1446 or jdavis@theet.com