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Layout, tech options for Coalhurst council chambers

Posted on February 15, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

A new council chamber layout will be tried with the hopes of creating a more efficient meeting space.

During the regular Feb. 6 meeting, Coalhurst Town Council reviewed options for improving the council chamber layout.

The current council chambers was done in 2019. Since then, challenges have arisen from changing technology to allow council members to meet remotely or livestream meetings, and council has tried a number of layout options to try to better facilitate discussion and public participation.

A total of $100,000 from the Administration Reserve was included in the 2024 budget to accommodate Council Chamber upgrades and other required office expenses. Currently, there are no other major current projects or funds allocated from Administration Reserve, apart from upgrading the server for the Town office.

Karlene Betteridge, director of legislative services for the Town, presented layout and technology options, based on a conference-style instead of “a more permanent structured (approach)” for the council chamber.

“We’re mainly looking for a more streamlined direction to where we can go,” said Betteridge, adding if they wanted more quotes she would be happy to do so.

In terms of layout, Option A involves purchasing conference-style desks as per HBI’s proposal to use Global Furniture conference room furniture solutions, at a cost of $15,000. The ‘U’ configuration would allow for efficient meeting management, flexibility to rearrange the room and includes cable management solutions when permanently set up, and new chairs for the gallery. However, moving the desks will require cable management and workarounds, new electrical wiring may be required and as drawers are not included with this style of desk, and additional storage is needed. 

Option B involves ordering new conference-style desks from a company that provides stock desks and placing the desk in a circle in council chambers, with prices ranging from $150-$1,500 per desk, depending on the style. This option would again allow for flexibility in Council Chamber as the desks can be moved or rearranged as needed, and is considered an affordable option. However, it would not allow for permanently wired technology and would need unique solutions for wire management. Additionally, as the desks would be square-shaped, it would result in less room depending on the desk configuration, and as drawers are not included with this style of desk, additional storage is needed. 

Betteridge noted that another option was not to go with either of the above options for layout.

In terms of technology upgrades, Option A is not to upgrade technology, although they may request add-ons to their existing products, at additional costs.

Option B is to upgrade technology with wired microphones only, meaning to compliment Option A, at an estimated cost of $20-$25,000. This would help create a better in-room and virtual meeting participation experience with the chair and legislative services managing microphone cues, and those participating online/listening on YouTube would better hear the conversations. 

Option C is to upgrade technology to include wireless microphones and cameras, at an estimated cost of $67-$82,000. This would help to create an all-encompassing chamber meeting management option, with cameras linked to the microphones and a better visual-audio experience.

Coun. Jesse Potrie asked if technology Option B would be better for Town staff to operate. Betteridge said that every seat would have its own microphone, which would be managed by the meeting’s chair, with staff as “back-up” to manage it. This option would also allow the person whose microphone is on, whether online or in person, to be better heard in the room.

“It’s a dual-use in who manages the microphones, but what it will do is it will eliminate the side conversations or noise coming from elsewhere in the room,” said Betteridge. “This option does not have a camera, just wired basic conference-style with the app, because you’ll need software as well to manage it.”

Coun. Scott Akkerman asked about ongoing fees for the technology option, which Betteridge said she’ll look into it to confirm the numbers.

Mayor Lyndsay Montina said as for the desk situation, it’s “achieving what we were kind of hoping for”.

“I think it’s starting to do what we need it to do, but I don’t think it’s fully doing what we need it to do,” said Montina, citing the need for appropriate and enough seating for groups. “I’m very interested to explore more of this component, but as for the tech part, I think that’s where I’m still kind of trying to figure out what that exactly looks like.”

Council passed a motion to direct administration to implement layout Option A, and that funding for the project be allocated from Administration Reserve for a budget total of up to $15,000.

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