Last week, when 10 residents met with a research team from the University of Florida to discuss Chapman Auditorium, the results of a recent survey showed that people and the natural beauty of the area were the top two reasons for living in Apalachicola.
On Sept. 26, Morris “Marty” Hylton, assistant professor in the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, and graduate student Kara Litvinas presented the results of a survey conducted over the last six months dealing with Chapman Auditorium and the Apalachicola lifestyle.
Hylton and Litvinas are working toward restoration of the historic Chapman Schools’ auditorium on US 98.
Hylton said, in order to explore possibilities for use of the historic building, he and Litvinas will engage the community by documenting existing conditions at the building and collaborating with local partners to identify potential new uses.
To that end, the pair is in the process of preparing a Historic Structure Report (HRS). Their initial findings were presented May 10 to about 20 people at a local workshop.
The survey, which got 35 responses, identified six aspects of life in Apalachicola in addition to people and the natural environment that a large number of participants said were important to them. These were the “small town feeling.” the “built environment” (or structures making up the town), “local activities and events,” “safety.” “seafood restaurants and shops” and the “economy.”
In a team exercise, three groups of participants in the Sept. 26 meeting were asked to rate these factors by importance. The ratings varied widely with only built environment making it into the top two factors on more than one chart.
Of the top two choices for the survey overall, the natural environment made it into the top two for one team and people was the number one choice for one team.
One team eliminated both built environment and economy from their list and substituted history and unique heritage. Safety and restaurants and shops were both rated low by all three teams.
The third part of the meeting dealt with phase II of Litvinas’ research, an exploration of possible new uses for Chapman Auditorium.
A list of community needs that the auditorium could help fulfill was complied. Participants said more recreational activities and events, additional amenities, economic diversity and jobs, community activism, beautification and improved infrastructure are needed.
Each of the three teams was given a suggested use of the building and asked to consider how those needs might be met. One team was asked to consider creating an educational facility or library, a second mulled creating a performing arts center and a third, dealt a “wild card” decided the building might be used to house government offices.
Litvinas said participants decided, whatever program is pursued, the facility should remain public and multifunctional and should be used by many people.
“It should probably house more than one program,” she said. “Participants liked the idea of a museum, library or educational facility because the school is next door, but wanted the auditorium to remain in use as well.”
Litvinas said, before any definite decisions are made, the HRS must be completed and questions about the ownership of the facility and adjacent property must be resolved.
She said, she will work to help create a master plan to present to a group of partners who can take on the tasks of fundraising and organization. She said the group might bring in experts to help with aspects of the project as well.
At the May meeting, Hylton said Chapman Auditorium would be “difficult to demolish.” He said there are no signs of major settling or stress, but that a few cracks along seams near the foundation of the building need to be monitored. There is also a problem with algae, mildew and moss growing on the exterior of the building, partly attributed to rising damp in the walls caused by a system of built-in internal and external downspouts that are depositing water too close to the foundation.
Of more concern are small leaks in the roof causing interior water damage. Hylton said these need to be fixed within the next three years and recommended replacing the roof.
Litvinas said some proposed changes to the interior of the building have to do with accessibility of the second floor and changes made when the front portion of Chapman when it was converted to a doctor’s office.
On Sept. 26, Hylton said preparation of the HRS is ongoing and said creation of the government mandated report would help down the line with funding for restoration.
In August, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation announced that Chapman is on its 2013 Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites list. Hylton said this is valuable to preservation efforts because it documents both the historic nature and the physical state of Chapman.
Hylton said Livinas, who has adopted the auditorium as the subject of her Master’s thesis, is also documenting the historical context of Chapman. He said a group of drawings dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, recently discovered at the Chapman complex has proved an unexpected windfall of information.
“What we found is many more structures on this site than we expected, especially a group dating to the 1950s that came and went,” said Hylton.
Work on the Chapman Auditorium Building was commenced in 1931. The cast stone structure was designed by E. R. James to contain eight classrooms and an auditorium. A. D. Lawson from Port St. Joe was the contractor for the new building.
The building housed the high school classes at the Chapman School. The Chapman High School class of 1934 was the first to graduate from the Chapman Auditorium. When the Apalachicola High School was constructed on 14th Street, in the 1970s, the classrooms were renovated into offices for the Franklin County School Board. The School Board deeded the property to Franklin County in 2009.
The building is the finest example of Art Deco architecture in Franklin County. It is adorned with cast stone details of crabs, owls and pelicans. Above the auditorium stage is an intricate scene in cast stone, which includes a depiction of the Chapman Auditorium.