Ninety-five young minds will spend the next few months studying Logansport's only historic theater, determining how best to restore the 77-year-old building.
Civil engineering students from Purdue University visited the State Theatre on Tuesday, Jan. 23 to examine the building that's operated as a theater since 1940. The students, mainly college seniors, are focusing on the theater for their semester-long engineering capstone project.
Robert Jacko, professor of civil engineering and instructor of the capstone class, said shortly after he looked at the theater last summer as a prospective class project, he realized the building was the perfect place for students to conduct a structural analysis for the university course.
On Tuesday, students wore hard hats and shined flashlights in every nook and cranny of the theater, checking the foundation, walls, roof, HVAC and water filtration system.
“I told them stick their noses in and just look, and get familiar," Jacko said.
The students, who have been studying the theater's blueprints so far this semester as preparation for Tuesday's visit, are split into 15 groups, each focused on different aspects of the theater. Some students have specialties not just in structural engineering, but transportation, foundation, environmental, architectural and other fields. They'll present their findings at the end of the semester.
The theater's incessant issues with the water system is what connected the State Theatre Preservation Society, the nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the theater, with Purdue. Pharos-Tribune editor Kevin Burkett also volunteers as president and CEO of the preservation society.
Barry Taylor, treasurer and chief financial officer of the nonprofit, said the organization had approached the city to find a way to eliminate the problem with water emptying into the basement, especially during storms. Logansport Mayor Dave Kitchell later asked Jacko if he would be interested in his students analyzing the water system for a class project, in order to find a possible solution.
Taylor said in addition to the water filtration system, theater officials are also looking at possibly putting solar panels on the roof to offset the cost of electricity.
“Everything that they’re going to put together for us might end up giving us ideas we haven’t thought of, and I think that’s probably the coolest thing," Taylor said about the project.
Some students, Jacko said, will determine whether to build more green spaces around the theater and look at the best traffic flow for transportation and parking.
Purdue seniors Kevin Thomas, David Magarici and Austin Zitelli are focusing on how to best lay out the theater's amenities, as well as the building's structural work. Magarici, 21, said he noticed the roof is well supported by the exterior walls, but many of the bricks aren't holding up.
Thomas, 21, said they discussed expanding the concessions area of the theater and moving the bar upstairs to a balcony area. Thomas said they want the building to be multi-use.
“We also want to create that opportunity for other local businesses to come in and help build the community and contributing and make it a nice place to be," Thomas said.
Zitelli, 22, said most senior design teams have completed projects on new buildings, so working on one as old as the State will be a different experience. And since the State Theater is on the Indiana and National Register of Historic Places, they have to follow specific guidelines in order to keep it on the registry.
The building represents an "outstanding example" of the Art Deco style popular when it was built, according to National Register documentation on Logansport's Courthouse Historic District, of which the theater is part.
Mark Bowman, professor of civil engineering and also a structural engineer, is a native of Logansport and used to often watch movies at the State Theatre growing up. He's going to lecture the students in the class in a few weeks about the building's structure and beams.
“It’s neat that they’re trying to restore it," Bowman said. "I think that’s fantastic.”
Each semester, the capstone class focuses on a different place in the state. Jacko said they've studied wind turbines, highways, water plants and wetlands. What makes the State Theatre project unique, he said, is it being a historic building. Many civil engineers specialize in restoring old buildings, something that might pique the interest of one of the students.
“How often do you have a laboratory experiment like this for students?" Jacko said. "You just don’t.”
Reach Ben Middelkamp at email@example.com or 574-732-5117.