Lutz will be less spooky on Halloween
By BILL COATS
© St. Petersburg Times,
LUTZ -- For the first time in 22 years, Lutz's historic school building won't be turned into a haunted house this October, organizers have decided.
Fire codes, which shut down the attraction on opening night last October, are the culprit again.
"We'd have to spend lots of money we don't have to fix the school," said Ben Nevel, president of the Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building.
The Lutz Haunted School House has raised $8,000 to $10,000 annually for the preservationist group, which in 1997 had the school placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Last fall, the haunted house was allowed to reopen after being closed its first night. The Lutz Volunteer Fire Department pledged to keep a fire truck outside. That had been a traditional measure, but previously, the firefighting crew was free to leave for calls elsewhere.
The next week, the county's fire marshal spread the word that such exceptions wouldn't be made again.
Artie Taylor, a fire inspector with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, said inspectors have discovered haunted houses where candles burned and hay covered the floors.
"We've been battling with haunted houses since I can remember," he said.
In fire safety codes, they are called "Special Amusement Buildings." They are required to have sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and virtually fireproof walls. If a fire alarm is activated, all howls, organ music and other sounds are to be silenced, and all exits lit up.
A sprinkler system in the 74-year-old Lutz schoolhouse would carry the additional expense of connecting to a county water main nearby instead of the current well, Nevel said. And it would take additional time for approval from the county's Historic Resources Review Board.
For years, the horror scenes in the Lutz schoolhouse have been separated by walls of painted heavy-duty cardboard. They have been connected by disorienting pitch-black labyrinths.
With exit lights, "We will have lost the effect of the mazes," Nevel complained.
The group decided last month that the task was impossible this year. But members agreed to begin researching options for reviving the attraction next year.
"We don't want to take a defeatist attitude, because we're not defeated yet," said Phyllis "Mama Spook" Hoedt, who has chaired the haunted house effort for 20 years.
Taylor, the fire inspector, said sprinkler systems can run adequately on wells or water storage tanks. And fireproof walls can be made of specially treated canvas. But he acknowledged it is difficult.
"It can be done," Taylor said. "It may be expensive and it may be time-consuming."
Meanwhile, the preservationists plan a reunion of the schoolhouse's former monsters and ghouls Oct. 27, and a Christmas activity. But they're unsure about the turnout.
"We've got a lot of kids who want to come and scare people," Nevel said. "If they can't scare people, are they going to come?"
- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or email@example.com.
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