April 18, 2014

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Haunted House bedeviled by fire code

VERMILION — After 23 years in the same location, operators of the Vermilion Haunted Schoolhouse are now running a haunted schoolyard after learning state fire codes prevent them from operating indoors.

JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Jonathan Halliday, director of the Vermilion Haunted Schoolhouse.

Moments after opening for its 34th season late last week, volunteers were told to shut down because the state fire marshal’s office decided that buildings used for special amusement purposes cannot operate indoors without a full sprinkler system.

The Haunted Schoolhouse, which is the major fundraiser of the Friends of HarbourTown 1837, operates out of the Old State Street School.

It does not have a sprinkler system beyond a few sprinkler heads attached to a water line in the makeup room, said project chairman Kenneth M. Baughman.

Only the basement and two rooms of the first floor are used.

The code dates back to 1995, said Shane Cartmill, spokesman for the state fire marshal. However, after a recent workshop on haunted house fire safety, local fire inspectors realized the code read a lot differently than they thought.

“They understood some of it for the first time and left with a better understanding of what to look for during inspections,” Cartmill said. “That’s why this happened. But people should understand that the most important thing is the safety of the people. We are not out to spoil the fun.”

The nature of a haunted house is to confuse, disorient and distract its occupants.

As such, it is extremely important that maximum safety features are provided in those facilities should an emergency of any kind occur, the state agency said in a letter to fire inspectors.

Still, no one was prepared for the shocking news delivered by a member of the Vermilion Fire Department. The schoolhouse was immediately shut down after receiving a violation notice.

County fright sites 

The Haunted Forest of Carousel
1451 Lake Breeze Road, Sheffield
Phone: (440) 934-5708
www.forestofterror.com
Hours: Friday-Saturday dark-midnight and Sunday dark-10 p.m., and Oct. 29-31. 
Cost: $12 per person. Kids 48 inches and under, $6. Same night        re-entry fee $2.
Appropriate for: All ages

Haunted Train and Hobo Path
46485 state Route 18, Wellington
Phone: (440) 647-6660
www.lakeshorerailway.org/Halloween.htm
Hours: 8 and 9:15 p.m. Oct. 19-20 and Oct. 26-27
Cost: $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and younger

Rockin’-R-Ranch Spooktacular Hayride, Haunted House, Maze and New Funhouse
19066 state Route 252, Columbia Township
Phone: (440) 236-5454
www.hayrides.net
Hours: Friday, Saturday 7-11:30 p.m.; Sunday, Thursday 7-9:30 p.m.
Cost: Adults $14, children 10 and younger $8 and children 2 and younger are free. Haunted hayride plus funhouse is $11 for adults, $8 for children 10 and younger and free for children 2 and younger. Fun House is free with ticket purchase.

The Haunted Schoolyard
993 State St., Vermilion
Hours: 7-11 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday.
Volunteers will keep the attraction open longer if attendance warrants.
Cost: $10 for adult and $5 for persons under 48 inches tall.
Donations will be taken to pay for a sprinkler system. Anyone wishing to donate time, material or financial support should call Friends of HarbourTown 1837 Inc at (440)             967-7167

Opening weekend generally generates about $2,000 in sales, money that can never be made up, Baughman said. HarbourTown 1837 raises funds for the preservation and restoration of historic downtown buildings.

Volunteers were immediately faced with two options: stay closed until $150,000 to $300,000 can be raised to install the sprinkler system or move the entire operation outside.

“We could work for 20 years and never have the money to pay for that,” he said. “Moving outside was our only choice. We will, as they say, go on with the show.”

About 75 volunteers from as young as 11 years old to those in their 60s and 70s have worked almost nonstop since Thursday dismantling, moving and rebuilding the haunted schoolhouse in the backyard, Baughman said. It is now a half-maze, half-outdoor walk that is just as good, if not better, than the original, Baughman said.

Zombies, werewolves, vampires and other classic haunted house characters will scare up more than a few screams as guests walk through 20 different scenes and a freshly dug graveyard.

“There will also be a couple of extra surprises that guests will have to see to believe,” Baughman said. “The walk won’t be any shorter than usual — about five to 10 minutes — depending on how fast they run if they get scared.”

Although the haunted schoolhouse has always operated with a standard of safety, Baughman said the move has not strained the relationship between the nonprofit organization and the fire department.

“Every day the schoolhouse was open for business, we had volunteers whose only job was to watch the building in case of a fire or other emergency,” Baughman said. “The building can be evacuated in less than two minutes. That’s better than a sprinkler system that doesn’t kick on until a fire is hot. But the law does not specify that our systems are adequate.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.