Shawnee looks to upgrade council chambers
Shawnee The City Council chambers could see a face lift as soon as the fall.
The chamber room stands as it did in 1990 when it was last completely remodeled. Since then, only the carpet and the benches for the public have been replaced. The city think's it's about time for an upgrade and it has budgeted $235,000 for the project.
"This is truly the face of our city," Council Member Jeff Vaught said. "What kind of image do we want to project?"
While creating the 2014 and 2015 budget, funds were set aside and a committee was formed to research and develop a project plan.
The committee consisted of council members Neal Sawyer, Mickey Sandifer and Vaught, as well as Planning Commissioner Steven Wise, Parks and Recreation Board Chair Peter Ehrlich, City Clerk Stephen Powell, Assistant City Manager Katie Killen, IT Director Mel Bunting and Deputy Parks and Recreation Director Tonya Lecuru.
The committee decided that the council chambers should reflect the seat of government and should be accessible, professional and welcoming to the public. They also said the room should be flexible in its use and be able to accommodate not only government meetings but other types of neighborhood meetings, public gatherings and employee trainings. Thirdly, they said the room should be equipped with the proper technology.
The committee toured three area board rooms to see what other updated chambers offered. They visited the Johnson County governing body chambers as well as Leawood's and Lee's Summit's.
The committee then drafted some preliminary design sketches that allow for the creation of a meeting room where the current council bench is located.
Overall, the committee established a list of needs and wants based on what they saw at other governing body chambers. They decided that the room needs a multifunctional, professional appearance with moveable chairs for the public and staff instead of the current benches. They also said that the ability to use the lobby as overflow space was a necessity. As far as technology, the committee listed public wall-mounted monitors, an upgraded audio stem, individual monitors for each council member, a public timing system, a monitor and speakers in the lobby and the ability to continue to stream audio of the meetings online as needs for the future chamber.
The city approved the 2015 budget to include $135,000 from the General Fund City Council budget, General Fund CMO General Overhead budget and the IT Equipment Reserve Fund budget. The city also forecasts and additional $100,000 for the project in 2016.
The amount proposed for the project alarmed some of the council members while others saw it as a necessary expense to improve the image of the city.
"We need to balance practicality with the necessary updates," Council Member Michelle Distler said.
Sawyer said he is usually skeptical of spending this much money but agreed that the council chamber is antiquated.
"Frankly, it does need to be updated," Sawyer said.
Council Member Mike Kemmling said the city could continue to do the work it has been doing with the current chamber and does not need a redesign. He ended up being the only vote against moving the project forward at Tuesday's council committee meeting.
Distler said that as the project moves forward, the design process needs to accommodate some of the new needs, but it also needs to be frugal.
"I think we can be great without being wasteful," Distler said. "I want to show that we're efficient and up to date with technology but I want to also show that we could do that with reasonable use of the citizens' money."
The council voted 7-1 in favor of advancing the remodel of the chamber and will revisit the topic at Monday's regular council meeting. In a proposed timeline, the city would pay about 10 percent of the total cost to a design firm to come up with the official design proposal and that construction could begin as soon as May with the project possibly being completed by August.