The Saenger Theater sign falls for repairs after being damaged in recent storms

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The grand dame of downtown Hattiesburg – the 29-foot-tall Saenger Theater sign – was taken down for repairs after sustaining damage in recent storms that hit the area.

Eddie Bacca — director of facilities, engineering and physical plant for the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, which manages the theater — discovered the damage on the morning of April 14 during a post-storm checklist of all congress commission buildings. The panel was dismantled that afternoon by Munn Enterprises, who will store the panel in their warehouse for repair.

The damage was caused over the past three weeks, during heavy rain, high winds and gusty winds due to inclement weather.

We believe these winds shook the panel back and forth, which over time caused one of the welds at the top of the panel to fail,” Bacca said.

The damage to the 2.5 tonne sign was reported around 8.45am that morning, and Forrest Street in front of the theater was cleared of vehicles and closed to traffic by 9.15am.

“Fortunately, the safety threads held; if not, it may well have fallen,” said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission. “Of course, that’s the purpose of the (cables); the weight of that sign would have probably knocked it out of the canopy…and into the street.

“But again, the security wires did what they were supposed to do, and they held it long enough for Eddie to get up there, with Munn’s help, to pull it out.”

Going forward, officials will inspect all support structures across the front of the Saenger Theater to ensure everything is in good condition. Engineers will also perform tests during this time.

“We are confident that it was the bracket that one of the security cables was on that gave way,” Taylor said. “So if that’s the case – which we don’t know yet – the main rods that support the weight of the panel will probably turn out to be good.

“But all of this needs to be tested and confirmed before the sign is put back up.”

The schedule for damage assessments and repairs has not yet been determined.

“We can look at the structure that holds the panel, and we don’t see a lot of damage around that where it enters the wall,” Taylor said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not there; it just means that it needs to be inspected very closely.

“Then the main rods that hold the panel will need to be inspected. The safety wires, we know the (weld on the) backing of one of them broke, so that all needs to be fixed. There’s a little more inspection that’s going to have to be done, and some engineers are going to have to do some testing, but at this point we’re confident that all of the safety systems worked as they’re supposed to.

In June 2014, the Saenger sign was returned to the building after a 10-week restoration, which replaced fluorescent bulbs with more energy-efficient light-emitting diode bulbs. Officials also repainted and resurfaced the sign during the process.

“So now is a good time to (think about) refurbishing the panel while we make sure the brackets and everything – the rods that hold it to the face of the Saenger – are all in good structural condition” , Taylor mentioned. “Assuming they are and an engineer approves it, we will put it back in place.

“If it’s not, we’re going to have to fix it. But we do not have this data at the moment.


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