Capitol Theatre as a courthouse
Fourth in a series of stories about the historic Capitol Theatre and its role in the community.
He apologized for the mess in his office at the Courthouse Annex, but that “mess” made it clear that he works hard. One long table full of documents for the building project; another groaning under the weight of COVID19 protocols and procedures.
“We couldn’t have pulled off what we did without the Capitol”, he said.
District Court Administrator Mark Singer hasn’t been here long, just eleven years. In spite of his title, he’s not a county employee; he works for the State.
When COVID19 interrupted his well-laid plans for a smooth transition of the Courts in early 2020, Mark didn’t have the decades of local connections and experiences to guide him. He did have solid support from the board of judges and Franklin County officials, who were just as eager as Mark to keep the courts running.
From securing laptops for employees to switching virtual meeting platforms, County officials supported him at every step.
And when the progress on the courthouse expansion project took away the large spaces inside the Old Courthouse and Courthouse Annex, County officials supported the search for a new venue. Mark made a dozen calls, but Capitol Theatre staff returned his call first.
An unusual partnership
It was a stroke of good luck for the theatre, and the start of an unusual, wonderful partnership.
Judges, representatives from Court Administration, and representatives from the Sheriff’s Office toured the theatre, determining what spaces could be utilized and how. Court Administration took over nearly the whole theatre, with the exception of the Chambersburg Ballet and Capitol Theatre offices.
Crews installed metal detectors, added a refrigerator and privacy panels in the jury deliberation space, and arranged tables and chairs into court-like settings. “We needed it to look like a court and feel like a court, so it could function as a court,” said Mark. After ensuring all safety measures were in place and testing all the systems—”audio at the theatre is better than at the courthouse,” Mark laughed—the team pronounced the Capitol Theatre ready for court.
“I have to applaud the residents of Franklin County,” Mark said. “The citizens did their part” to make it work. Security took longer than at the courthouse and people had to wait, sometimes in the rain or the cold. No one complained.
Usually, the main auditorium held socially distanced jury selection and the Wood Center served as court.
On one very special occasion, President Judge Shawn D. Meyers administered the Oath of Allegiance, welcoming 27 new citizens of the United States of America. Franklin County held its last naturalization ceremony in 2019.
The Capitol Theatre made it possible for 27 county residents to become citizens in their own county, rather than driving to the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Philadelphia. Local oversight of the event allowed everyone to be mask-less if they were vaccinated and to bring a guest, neither of which would have been permitted at the Philadelphia office.
Mark oversees the courts in both Franklin and Fulton counties. Interestingly, both counties’ courts utilized nearby historic theatres during the pandemic: Franklin’s to the Capitol Theatre, and Fulton’s to the Fulton Theatre. Talk about thinking outside the box! Before COVID19, the Capitol wasn’t even a consideration for Franklin County’s continuity plan. Today, it’s near the top of the list.
Since 1927, the Capitol Theatre has been a beacon of the arts on Chambersburg’s South Main Street. With its original Möller pipe organ, mahogany railings, elaborate murals and carved fretwork, the historic building is a rare gem. It’s available for rent as a court, a meeting room, a wedding or party venue. To inquire about using the Capitol Theatre, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, for your event, CLICK HERE or call 717-263-0202.