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Blaze causes heavy damage to Afrikan Poetry Theatre

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A quick-burning fire swept through the second floor of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre in downtown Jamaica last week, destroying offices and damaging the theater space.

The fire started about 3 p.m. on Feb. 27 in an office at the rear of the building at 176-03 Jamaica Ave., said Mike Loughran, a spokesman for the Fire Department. The cause was determined to be electrical, he said.

There were no injuries reported, Loughran said. Neighboring buildings were also unaffected, said Byron Perry, an administrative assistant for the theater.

Although a dollar figure for the damage had not been arrived at yet, Perry said that the destruction was extensive. The second-floor ceiling and the roof were badly damaged, leaving several holes and splintered beams. Several offices, including files, documents, books, clothing, and other merchandise, were also burned, he said.

The damage to the theater space on the first floor was less severe, although the floor became water-logged when firefighters were putting out the blaze, Perry said. The second-floor art gallery also escaped damage.

The fire has jeopardized many of the theater’s programs, Perry said. The theater hosts a variety of programs and events, including gallery shows which change every month. The new exhibit was to debut on Sunday, March 3, he said. Perry estimated that the theater would not be able to host programs for at least a month.

“We want it repaired as quickly as possible because we have programs,” he said. “We want it clean and safe.”

Perry hopes the programs, such as African music concerts and dance performances, storytelling workshops, and self-defense classes, as well as the theater itself, will be up and running by April.

The theater had hoped to buy the building, which it has been leasing since 1979 — a plan which has been put on hold as a result of the fire, Perry said. The group had been negotiating with its landlord, but now it will have to see how the repairs go first, he said.

“We still want to purchase the building,” Perry said. “We’re in a holding pattern right now.”

The theater is also concerned there may be additional costs now, Perry said.

The Afrikan Poetry Theatre was established in 1976 as a not-for-profit organization providing cultural, education, recreational, and social development programs to downtown Jamaica.

The theater offers workshops in rites of passage, poetry, films, music, computer training, cultural crafts, dance, and more. It also runs the “Journey to the Motherland” tours, leading groups to Africa, and the Summer Youth Employment Program, which puts 500 youth to work each summer, Perry said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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