Bowlus works on parking lot, fire alarms

The Bowlus is moving ahead with a parking lot project, which will include decorative art instead of landscaping. The performing arts center also needs to update its fire alarm system, which hasn't had much of an upgrade since the building was constructed in 1964.

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October 26, 2021 - 9:57 AM

Artist Amie Jacobsen of Kansas City, Mo., has been commissioned to design art pieces for a new parking lot at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Courtesy photo

A couple of improvement projects at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center  — something fun and something long overdue — took center stage at the Iola school board meeting Monday night.

Director Dan Kays shared the good news first: Construction was expected to begin in June for a parking lot for about 40 vehicles, with decorative art pieces. The $146,000 project will be funded by gifts to the Friends of the Bowlus.

And then the bad news: A state fire marshal’s inspection revealed the Bowlus is working under a 1964-era fire alarm system. It needs to be upgraded, ASAP. 

An art installation by Amie Jacobsen at Bartlesville, Okla.Courtesy photo

The parking lot

The parking lot will feature several key details to make it neighborhood-friendly. 

The lot will be located to the southeast of the Bowlus, at the site of a house that was moved last year to a new spot near Iola Middle School. That property and the existing half-lot parking area next door will be razed and a new, 40-spot lot built.

It will include motion-sensor lights that dim when there are no cars or people in the lot.

It also will be designed to funnel water and vehicles onto Buckeye Street, rather than the alley behind the Bowlus.

Decorative art will be installed to brighten the area, after construction took out several trees and there isn’t room for landscaping. That’s courtesy of Jim and Mary Ann Arnott, who are donating $25,000 to the Bowlus.

The Bowlus has commissioned Amie Jacobsen, who recently moved to Kansas City, Mo., but has strong Kansas ties. She works with metal and glass to create large, stunning sculptures. 

Her work includes 14-foot metal flowers in Bartlesville, Okla., and other projects throughout the midwest. 

Kays offered some examples of her work in that price range. He expects she will visit the community to get a sense of what type of art to create.

The parking lot is expected to be done in June; the sculpture likely will be finished later.

Daniel Kays, executive director of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, talks to the USD 257 Board of Education. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Fire alarm system

A visit from the state fire marshal resulted in a citation delivered to Kays on Friday: Upgrade the alarm system.

That’s because the building is still used by students as part of the school system, even though classes are no longer routinely offered in the building.

The inspection also revealed a number of smaller issues, mostly related to timely reporting and regular tests of various fire systems. 

It’s not clear how the 1964 alarm system managed to go so long without being upgraded, Kays said. Older buildings typically are “grandfathered in” for various code issues, but it should have been noted at some point, Kays said.

Kays gave board members some examples of how the outdated system could affect safety.

The building has pull-style alarms that are not connected to the county’s 911 system, automatically alerting authorities to a fire. 

It also lacks smoke detectors, which means a fire could smolder in the walls, ceiling or other places without sounding an alarm.

In the basement, it can be difficult to hear the alarm sound, especially during musical performances. If one of the alarms failed, about half of the basement would not be alerted.

There are very limited strobe lights, which alert someone who is hearing impaired.

On the plus side, Kays said, the Bowlus needs only to improve the alarm system. It isn’t required to install an entire fire suppression system. That would be much more costly.

“This is just the alarm that tells people to get out of the building,” he said.

Kays told board members he will begin research on appropriate upgrades. He didn’t yet know what it might cost or how long it would take. 

Typically, the state fire marshal gives 90 days to fix a problem. The Bowlus likely will need a long extension, Kays said. 

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