Council chambers remodeling offers direct view to audience
Jan 11, 2013 (The Santa Fe New Mexican - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
For some 30 years, Santa Fe city councilors have been seated in an arc that leaves half the panel turned away from the crowd at public meetings. Now, through a $20,000 to $50,000 remodel plan, the council chambers could be rearranged so that the mayor and all eight councilors would face their audiences.
Currently, the four councilors seated to the left of the chambers (or to the audience's right) are facing toward members of the public, while the mayor and one councilor face the stenographer and the speaker's dais, and three councilors on the right face the city manager, attorney and clerk -- with their right sides to the audience.
That means those councilors -- Patti Bushee, Chris Rivera and Bill Dimas -- have to turn to address members of the public. Rivera and Dimas sought the remodeling last year in a resolution that said the current arrangement causes some councilors to "lack direct visibility and interaction with the public."
The proposed remodeling would rearrange the council table into a symmetrical arc facing the public seating, with the mayor in the center of the eight councilors. The stenographer would remain to the audience's right. The city manager, attorney and clerk would sit to the audience's left. The speaker's dais -- where city staff, members of the audience and others stand to address the governing body -- would be moved to the center of the room.
The remodeling would keep the number of seats for the audience at 96 -- arranged in 16 rows of six seats.
On Wednesday night, the City Council voted to approve the design, with only Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger dissenting. She suggested holding off on remodeling the council chambers until city staff has a chance to review the "big picture" of physical problems with the entire City Hall, originally built in the 1930s as a school.
Wurzburger said when the Public Works Committee recently toured City Hall, its members learned that some automobile bays were leaking gasoline fumes into offices.
"We're doing piecemeal planning on a building that needs a total remodel," she said.
Jason Kluck, the project manager, estimated work could begin on the council chambers in March or April. He said most of the chambers dates to 1976, when City Hall was moved from the Washington Avenue building that now houses the city's Main Library to the remodeled school building. The current configuration of the desks in was done in the early 1980s, Kluck said.
Dimas joked that the desk he occupies today is the same one he used when he was a councilor in 1984, and that it still has his markings of "Go Demons" and "Go Lobos."
The estimated cost of remodeling the chambers is $20,000, with an optional $11,000 more for new lighting, $6,000 for new data lines, $10,000 to make the room more accessible to people with disabilities and a $3,000 contingency.
Kluck told the councilors that if the total cost was kept below $25,000, the city would not be obligated to meet the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mayor David Coss suggested, however, that it might be best to make the room fully ADA compliant to ease access to the speaker's dais for people using wheelchairs and scooters.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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