Work begins on Memorial Auditorium's Community Theatre - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Work begins on Memorial Auditorium's Community Theatre

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Bolt by bolt.

"It's about the country," says Missy Crutchfield, Administrator of Chattanooga's Department of Education, Arts & Culture.

"Those who lived and died and are still fighting."

Row by row.

"It's intimate," architect Bob Franklin says. "You get to see the performer. You're not sitting back in the nosebleed section!"

Stagehands, renovation crews and Army reservists with the 212th Transportation Company, are taking the top floor Community Theatre, of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, right down to its shell.

"The invite is an honor in itself," Sgt. Steven Wilbur says.

"There're gonna be new seats, carpet, work on the floors, ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance, elevators," Crutchfield says.

All 700 plus seats, museum pieces in themselves, are being stacked away for future uses unknown.

"Because right now, this is completely out of disability compliance, so we don't do anything up here anymore," Crutchfield says.

"How many of our soldiers come back with disabilities? And the fact that one of our two venues here is out of compliance, is unconscionable."

"I don't think it's a slap in the face or anything like that," Sgt. Wilbur says.

But he's saddened, that the landmark which hosted his high school graduation, and who knows how many others, has come to this.

"A lot of people may feel the same way, that they should have done this a long time ago," he says. "But they're doing it now---and I appreciate it."

The seed: $300,000 fought for thanks to the late Robert Kirk Walker, Chattanooga's Mayor from 1971-75.

"He met with us right before he died (in 2007)," Crutchfield says. "You talk about perseverance."

Four years, and $700,000 from Chattanooga's capital budget later;

"I'm looking forward to creating a venue for more and more of those kinds of folks who want to play to 700-800 people," architect Franklin says.

Phase One will take about a year. New seating will remind you of pews in church.

"I would like to see it cater to veterans---to serve the purpose it was built for--serve the purpose it was revitalized for," Sgt. Wilbur says.

The Department of Education, Arts and Culture is seeking donors to cover the second phase of renovations; new sound systems and lighting.

"Hopefully, one day we'll have a name for it," Crutchfield says. "To name it after someone. We would love to have that donor.

Revitalized; it will remain an Community Theatre, and the Scenic City's auditorium.

"Everything about it just resonates with the vision of our country, our veterans, Crutchfield says.

"It's what we can do. it's the right thing to do."

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