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NC5 Investigation Finds Fire Violations at Schermerhorn

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center has been open less than six months --and now it's facing major repairs. 

This after a NewsChannel 5 investigation found safety violations that fire experts say put the public at risk.

Investigative Reporter Jennifer Kraus discovered the problems.

And now Metro's fire marshal is ordering the Symphony to fix the problems now.

The center cost more than $120 million to build.

And the attention to even minor details is obvious.

But when we went undercover at the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center, we found something rather major was overlooked.

And when we showed a group of fire experts what we found, they all agreed it was putting the public in danger.

"Why are these doors locked?" asks Dan Johnson with Rural Metro Fire. "I would consider it a problem."

"You expect to be able to exit," adds Tommy White with the Sevierville Fire Department, after seeing our video,

"There's no way for anybody to unlock that door," agrees Mike Brown with the Knox County Fire Prevention Bureau.

Our investigation found the main doors to the front lobby and two side atriums are generally kept locked during the day.

We asked a building security guard who unlocked a door for us, "Are all of the other doors locked?"

"Yes," he replied.

And the only way to open the doors is with a key.

And that concerns people like Shane Ray, an instructor at the National Fire Academy, who walked through the building with us and tested the doors.

"These doors should open freely," Ray says.

That concerns him, he says, because the public is in and out of the Symphony Center every day. They've got daily tours, a cafe and a gift shop.

Ray tested another set of doors.

"They've obviously locked," he notes. "We can't exit the building."

And if there were a fire there, he says, people would be trapped inside.

The Symphony insists it opens some of the doors when there is a tour going on.

But when we went on a tour just last week, we tested the doors and not one of them opened.

We showed our tape to Metro Deputy Fire Marshall Charles Scott.

"That should not have happened," Scott agrees. "Those doors should not have been locked."

Chief Scott was concerned though not just about the locks, but the doors themselves.

It turns out, this type of door is not even supposed to be there.

The fire code says what's supposed to be there is the kind of door we found across the street.

At the Gaylord Entertainment Center, even though the doors are locked from the outside, if someone is inside, they can still get out by pushing the bar across the door.

It's what's known as a panic bar.

Chief Scott says the building's original design plans called for panic bars.

And what's in the building now, he says, are clearly fire code violations that somehow were overlooked when Metro fire and codes inspectors gave the building its final inspection.

"It got missed," Scott admits.

He says the Symphony's policy of supposedly unlocking a few doors during tours simply won't work since, as we found, people on the tours sometimes get separated from the group and end up wandering around the building on their own.

The Symphony's president Alan Valentine says, "The last thing in the world we even want to do is put anybody in harm's way."

And Valentine says with all that's gone into making this hall a world-class facility, they'll do whatever it takes to make things right.

Valentine adds, "We'll resolve it quickly. We'll act quickly."

When there is a Symphony or pops concert, all of the doors are opened.

The issue is what happens during the day.

Now, the symphony is either going to have to replace or retrofit the seven sets of double doors.

Until then, the fire marshal says anytime the building is open to the public, those doors must be unlocked.

That's exactly what the Symphony says they began doing as soon as we pointed out the problem.

In addition, fire inspectors admit they should have caught this before they allowed the building to open.

The fire marshal says he's talked to the inspectors who signed off on the building to make sure nothing like this happens again.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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