New council chambers in tune with technology

Sunday, January 17, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
In this panoramic photo illustration, the view of the new City Council chambers from where the council members will sit.

COLUMBIA — For now their meetings are held in the same place they’ve been held since September 1976, in a former hotel ballroom in the Daniel Boone Building. But on Feb. 15, Columbia City Council members will meet somewhere new.

Designed to balance aesthetics and accessibility, the new City Council chambers were erected on the first floor of the city hall addition at Broadway and Eighth Street. They boast the latest in multimedia capabilities, including remote-control cameras and monitors for video presentations; They also feature recycled and renewable building materials.


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There are 200 chairs in the new chambers, but the final occupancy limit has yet to be determined by the Columbia fire marshal. Unlike stationary seats in the current chambers, which have an occupancy limit of 222, seats in the new chambers can be moved to reconfigure space for different uses.

Accessibility was a major factor in placing the new chambers on the first floor. It was difficult for some people to reach the existing chambers on the fourth floor of the Boone building, Public Communications Director Toni Messina said.

“You had to find the single small elevator, and then once you got to the fourth floor, you had to search for which way to go to find one of the two doors to the chamber,” Messina said.

“Aesthetics and flexibility for the occupants” were the primary design considerations for the new chambers, said project architect Diane Mansfield of Chiodini Associates in St. Louis, the firm in charge of construction.

Mansfield said the new space includes “totally upgraded electrical and audio-visual systems to accommodate new technology such as plasma screens. Full connectivity was designed in.” The room’s layout will help those attending meetings have an “easier time seeing and hearing people.”

The new chambers contain a lectern designed for quick linkup of computers to the room’s multimedia systems. In the old chambers, “there was a scramble to get computers hooked up” before presentations, Messina said. Staff from the city’s cable channel will be responsible for setting up communications equipment and for helping users operate it during meetings.

Seven remote-control cameras provide full coverage of the chambers for live broadcasting of events. Six large plasma screen monitors throughout the room give occupants a clear view of video and computer presentations.

Bruce Ludwig, building construction coordinator with the Public Works Department, oversees construction daily. Ludwig said that the chambers' finishing materials emphasize "rapidly renewable, recyclable resources." Bamboo wall paneling as well as panel-backing manufactured from straw and carpet made partly from recycled material are just a few examples of the eco-friendly construction.

The City Council originally planned to hold its first meeting of 2010 in the new chambers, but cold weather hampered concrete work on the public area in front of the addition.

Columbia taxpayers will realize an annual savings, estimated at $300,000, when city departments move to the new building from offices scattered around rented buildings downtown, Messina said. The city’s cable channel, utility, finance and information technology departments will all move to the new building in the coming months.

Officials are planning a ceremony to celebrate the old council chambers. The event is expected to take placeimmediately before the Feb. 15 meeting in the new chambers.

"We do plan to decommission the old chamber and honor the public business that has been conducted there since the 1970s," Messina said. 

The city expects to remain within its $22 million budget for the city hall addition. The old city building and the new addition will retain the same street address, 701 E. Broadway.

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Mark Foecking January 17, 2010 | 6:37 a.m.

"Columbia taxpayers will realize an annual savings, estimated at $300,000, when city departments move to the new building from offices scattered around rented buildings downtown..."

Mmm, OK. So that is a payback period of 70 years (21 million/300,000, not counting the miniscule contribution of sub-1% interest). Doesn't sound like sound fiscal planning to me.

Also, has anyone estimated the amount of square footage that will be made available for retail/office space when those departments do move back into city hall? Might it be enough to make the retail space on the ground floor of the new parking garage unnecessary?

Hopefully we will be able to keep a good bond rating. I'm thinking that with all this new debt, that a downgrade is in the fairly near future.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 17, 2010 | 12:49 p.m.

One of the reasons I wouldn't go to the public input meetings in the past was because I'd feel like the physical layout of the room created the tone of council members "talking down" at the citizens who came to convey their concerns.
This inner sanctum chamber seems to elevate that to a whole new level.
Seems to me that technology will place our "representatives" on an even higher plane and constituents become more of an audience then vested partner.
I had the same sense when one of this town's 'mega-churches' believed that more giant screen televisions made their messages more meaningful or important.
It actually made the church feel more impersonal.
Is this the goal of the council chamber layout as well?
What's next?
Attaching the mayor to a wire and having him fly over the lowly seated attendees ala Garth Brooks or Peter Pan?

(Report Comment)

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