Michael Kaiser Responds to Congressional Criticism of Kennedy Center's Fire Safety

Classic Arts News   Michael Kaiser Responds to Congressional Criticism of Kennedy Center's Fire Safety
Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser defended the center's fire safety plan in front of a congressional panel yesterday, the Washington Post reports.

Kaiser was responding to a new report, issued by the Government Accountability Office, which criticized the center's fire safety measures as well as management of four construction projects, all of which have gone over budget.

The areas of concern in case of fire are the Grand Foyer, the Hall of Stages, the Hall of Nations, and the Millennium Stages. Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director of physical infrastructure issues, was concerned about exit problems, and about the lack of sprinklers and smoke-evacuation systems in the halls.

The Kennedy Center, which has firefighters on staff, is only reviewed by city fire marshals for presidential visits.

In response, Kaiser pointed out that there were three ways to leave the Millennium Stages in case of fire. "I believe the building is safe, or I would shut it down," he said. He said that all the fire-safety suggestions made by the center's consultants were followed.

No conclusion was reached on this matter; the Smithsonian Institution's office of safety and environmental management will mediate further discussion about the center's fire-safety measures.

With regard to the construction overruns, Kaiser argued that GAO report was criticizing projects that had already been in the works before the center overhauled its management of construction finances based on GAO recommendations in 2003. "We do not believe, therefore, that the new report gives a valid view of current project management at the Kennedy Center," he said.

The projects under examination include renovations of the center's concert hall and opera house, as well as an overhaul of the fire system and modifications made to public spaces. The Kennedy Center expects to ask for $43 million in addition to the $203 million it has received since 1995 for capital projects.

Rep. Charles Tayler (R-NC) said that the center could not continue to go over budget on these projects. "We might be required to take [further increases] out of your funds," he said.

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