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A solution to the Pine problem?

County officials devise a solution to the emergency exit problem

by: ANNEMARIE KNEPPER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Work continues to improve the facade of the Pine Theater in downtown Prineville. The theater originally opened in 1938.

Prineville's old Pine Theater may be able to show movies after all.
   One possible solution to the theater's exit issues is an architectural change that would create a fire-safe corridor on the north wall and the south wall into what used to be the refreshment stand and barbershop.
   Experts say it would meet county building requirements as well as being architecturally sound.
   "The architect will have to draw it up so we can review it and make sure it works," said Lou Haehnlen, Crook County building inspector. "But there is a way that they can do it."
   Haehnlen said the owners of the Pine Theater, Prineville residents Oniko and Ali Mehrabi, could resolve their exit issues by making structural changes internally.
   The building inspector said the owners could choose to frame a wall down one side of the theater and enclose it and make it a corridor. Then movie-goers could exit near the rear of the theater and go down the corridor and come out the front of the building.
   "It will be an `one hour' corridor, which means they are fire protected," Haehnlen said. "Once they get inside the corridor, they can get out of the building."
   Prineville architect Don Wood said he has been telling people they could do just that for six or seven years.
   "This (plan) is a corridor," he said. "A hallway is not protected by fire. A corridor is. It will be at least 34 inches wide and however long it needs to be."
   He said such a design is very typical and he sees no architectural reason why it would not solve the Pine's exit issues.
   "It's a matter of going in there and doing a proper structural analysis, but I don't see a problem with it (architecturally)," Wood said. "It's all very typical and normal. Nothing out of the ordinary."
   But would the county approve it?
   "It would be approved," Haehnlen said. "It's completely legal to do that as long as they get it drawn up by an architect and get it submitted, we'll approve it."
   "They should be able to move right along with their project," he added.
   In the meantime, the owners of the Pine Theater have continued to make improvements on the building.
   "We are very grateful the county has come up with an option," Oniko Mehrabi said, declining to comment further.
   The previous owner, Jim VanVoorhees, held a sale last weekend attempting to rid the space of some of his storage contents.
   School and city surveys have repeatedly highlighted the need for a movie theater in Prineville, with area high schoolers citing a cinema as their most desired and needed entertainment venue.
   The Pine has been closed since 1971.
   "I'd sure like to see a theater back in there," Wood said.