Archive for Monday, May 13, 1991

SAVING THE BARN

May 13, 1991

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A piece of white typing paper fastened by masking tape hangs on the door of Chamney Barn, which houses Kansas University's glassforming studio.

Written in red, the message on the sign proclaims, "No glass blowing or any hot work until further notice. We have been officially asked to shut down."

In response to concerns about students' safety, the dean of the School of Fine Arts at KU shut down the old stone barn, located on 15th Street west of the main KU campus.

Peter Thompson, dean of fine arts, said some repairs will be made during the summer so students close to graduating will be able to finish their coursework. He refutes rumors that the barn will never reopen.

While students may not do "hot work" like melting and blowing glass, they may continue "cold work" like polishing and grinding.

KU OFFICIALS have several concerns about the barn. Among them are the furnaces, which heat glass to 2,300 degrees. A report says electrical wires "are taped, tied or hung to whatever is nearby." Poor ventilation, small explosions and the layout of the equipment also have been highlighted as problems.

Although he said he regrets having to close the barn students still work in the barn, and there have been meetings there Thompson said he "didn't want to put students at risk."

And while Thompson said glassforming is an "inherently dangerous situation," he said that can't be used as an excuse compromising students' safety. He said there have been some "common sense violations" that can be easily mended.

"Students are casual about injuries," Thompson said. "When you're working with glass, chances are very good that you'll get cut. On the other hand, we want to make sure people are properly trained so that there are no injuries at all."

THOMPSON said there have been no serious injuries in the barn. One of the changes he would like to see is the layout of the equipment. He said the furnaces might be rebuilt in different locations so the area is more conducive to safe work.

Thompson said he doesn't know at this point how much money will be needed to upgrade the barn. Until all repairs are made, he said the barn probably will not operate at the same level it did before it closed three weeks ago.

But Thompson said the school will do enough repairs to "make sure that students who need courses get them."

"We'll do at least that much this summer," he said.

Alison Sheafor, a Topeka senior who's graduating this semester, said she believes some of the problems have been exaggerated.

During a telephone interview from New York, where she was attending a meeting of the Glass Art Society, Sheafor said she was concerned that the barn might never reopen.

SHEAFOR met with Thompson after the barn closed to discuss the problems. She admits there are some minor problems, but she doesn't believe students are at risk in the barn.

"Our track record says it's not really a dangerous place," said Sheafor, who's in the process of building her own glass studio in Topeka.

She said students are well-trained by the glassforming professor, Vernon Brejcha, and she said that if students pay attention to his instructions, they aren't at risk.

Thompson said there are five students who've declared glassforming as their emphasis in the ceramics major. Sheafor said an additional 20 students work in the barn. She said many glass studios are forced to close because of the expenses involved.

"In my opinion, I think if we can get $40,000, the barn will be able to reopen," said Sheafor, who has been blowing glass for five years.

THOMPSON said that if everything that's been pinpointed is fixed, the cost of repairs could total as much as $100,000.

Sheafor said she set up an account with the KU Endowment Association and spread the word among members of the Glass Art Society that donations are needed to make sure Chamney Barn doesn't remain closed.

She said it would be a "grave injustice" if the glass studio closes indefinitely.

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