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Chamber made

NORTH LIBERTY– North Liberty’s councilors, commissioners and staff have a new place to spend their nights at the round table.
The city renovated and update a 4,000 space in the building two doors down from its current City Hall, at 1 Quail Creek Circle. The public is invited to a ribbon cutting and open house showcasing the new facility on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 6:15 p.m., before the city council meeting.
City Administrator Ryan Heiar proposed the move from the old council chambers on N. Front Street during his FY2012 budget presentation in January, stating that the new facility would provide improved parking, additional office space and added convenience of a closer location to City Hall. In addition, Heiar said, the former council chambers could then be turned over to the North Liberty Fire Department.
To make the vacant space in the Eply building usable for the city’s purposes, the city installed a built-in dais, put in new carpet, updated the electrical system and did general painting and cleaning. A couple of partial walls were knocked down and a few new ones were put up to slightly reconfigure the floor plan.
Costs of the renovation totaled $73,000. The city realized considerable cost savings because a lot of the work was done in house by city staff, said Heiar.
“Staff from the parks department, along with a couple others from water and wastewater departments, did all the painting,and demolition work, which was a substantial savings, and a lot of the finish work. I estimate we save about $10,000, at minimum,” said Heiar.
Much of the outlay was to install the technology to make meetings more accessible to home viewers and audience members; two 46-inch televisions allow attendees to view Power Point presentations, documents and other supplemental packet materials, while a separate room for NLTV’s broadcasting equipment allows telecommunications staff to conduct live feed of meetings without interference to guests or council. The system is now connected directly to the city’s fiber network, offering a more stable connection to home viewers.
The production booth is enclosed for security purposes, as well
“The way the old space was used, it seemed such a communal area,” said Telecommunications Director Cheryle Caplinger. In the new space, she said, the equipment is dedicated to the space and configured for broadcasting public meetings so others aren’t tempted to move or use the equipment. New remote controlled cameras are operated by a joystick, rather than manipulated by hand, and are set up to give views of not only the city officials behind the desk, but of speakers at the podium and the audience as well.
In addition to improved function, the space looks and sounds more impressive, too. On the way to the new chambers, a well-appointed lounge for city staff, an office for the part-time city attorney and a separate vestibule with framed photographs of city scenes were incorporated into the space, as was a separate room for closed-session meetings, allowing audience members to stay in the chambers. Inside the chambers, a new curved dais seated about 18 officials from local governments and the Iowa City School Board during a recent joint meeting. Comfortable chairs fill the audience area, the capacity for which is about equal to that in the former chambers. The new space was designed with acoustic panels and ceiling speakers, creating exceptional audio, even in the back of the room.
Heiar said several considerations weighed into the decision to move the council chambers, and the justification for spending an additional $65,000 per year to lease the new space.
“The former council chambers was connected to the fire department,” said Heiar. “With their continued growth, they needed more space. Also, we needed to improve our public meeting space to a more updated, professional space that would allow for more parking, easier access for the public, an improved television feed, and also be closer to City Hall, which is more efficient from a staff perspective.”
Council member Coleen Chipman was originally skeptical about the additional expense when it was first proposed. However, Chipman said, after more consideration, she realized how drawbacks present in the previous facility could be improved by the move.
“I really like the new chambers, because the public can see what the council is seeing at the same time,” she said, referring to the new projection system. “Before, in the old chambers, that did not happen. I am a visual person, and I know how important it is for everyone to have the same visuals. Also, the audio is so much better. In the old chambers, it was very difficult to hear from the back of the room, and it was difficult for council to hear when someone in the audience was also speaking.”
Additionally, Chipman said, in the former chambers, whenever NLTV’s television cameras were trained on a speaker at the podium, the chamber doors were also on camera.
“You could see everyone coming in and out of chambers,” she said. “People could not leave without feeling like they were disturbing council meetings. Now it’s easier to come and go as you like. I think it’s more comfortable for the public.”
Increased accessibility to the public, the ability for the fire department to utilize the previous council chambers to relocate equipment sitting in the fire truck bays, and more space were also factors Chipman considered when approving the budget expenditure.
“We weighed the pros and cons, and the pros won out considerably. That’s why I thought it was a wise decision,” said Chipman.
Join the North Liberty City Council and city staff next Tuesday, Sept. 13, for a tour of the new facility and refreshments, at 1 Quail Creek Circle, off Highway 965 across from Gasby’s in North Liberty.