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Council to spend $450,000 on own chambers

Robotic cameras, better lighting and sound are promised with the upgrades.

Much of the argument for council chamber upgrades at City Hall went without saying.

Under the glare of spotlights and from behind the incessant hum of air ducts and equipment, Bainbridge Island Broadcasting Executive Director Scott Schmidt successfully pitched nearly a half-million dollars worth of audio and video improvements at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“What we’re talking about is forward-thinking technology,” Schmidt said. “It will provide us with lower operating and maintenance expenses,” while preparing the room for “the inevitable changes in the ways broadcasts are presented.

“And it will take care of one of the most annoying parts of this room – the spotlights,” he said, squinting toward the ceiling from under a shimmering brow.

Schmidt’s pledge to replace the dim fluorescent lights slung over the council with fixtures that cast “a more favorable light” elicited a few giggles from councilors.

“The council chamber was clearly not designed as a broadcast facility,” said Steve Miller, the city’s information technology director. “The lighting is poor, the audio is spotty and the present configuration doesn’t favor camera angles.”

While changing the chamber’s light fixtures and microphones will cost a comparatively low $60,000, the biggest money item – robotic cameras – will cost an estimated $234,000.

The four wall-mounted cameras would be controlled remotely from BIB’s studio on High School Road, eliminating the need for camera operators during public meetings. The city could see savings as the paid staff required to operate equipment would be reduced, Schmidt said.

The robotic cameras would also free up BIB’s portable cameras for other community projects, he added.

Prep time before meetings would be cut from about two hours to about a half-hour and those in the audience would be freed from various obstructions, including a large editing console and two or three floor cameras.

“One of the most exciting parts of this technology is that it lets us make better use of this room,” Schmidt said.

Other upgrades in the estimated $450,000 project include more microphones, a council dais reconfiguration for improved camera angles and a broadcast projector.

The chamber’s air circulation system would also be relocated to reduce a noise level in all parts of the room that is equivalent to a running dishwasher, Miller said.

The phased project, set to begin in late August and be completed in two years, would be paid for with remaining funds from a city bond issue and a monthly public access fee charged to cable TV users.

The bond funds can only be used to improve public facilities, barring its inclusion in the general budget, said city finance director Elray Konkel.

The project budget – about $200,000 more than city staff estimated in January – seemed high to some councilors.

“I have a hard time approving a half-million dollars to make City Hall a perfect (media) production facility,” said Councilwoman Christine Rolfes, who joined Councilwoman Debbie Vancil in voting against the measure.

Rolfes argued that the present technology already serves its purpose of making city government more transparent to citizens. She said some of the bond money should intead be spent on improvements to the public works facility on Hidden Cove Road.

“I don’t see this as a windfall for lighting and audio, but as a windfall for basic infrastructure,” she said.

Councilman Jim Llewellyn, who voted with councilors Bill Knobloch and Deborah Vann to approve the measure, disagreed that the improvements are unnecessary.

“I don’t see this as making (the chamber) perfect,” Llewellyn said. “I see it as moving it from woefully inadequate to adequate.”

He added that the measure improves aspects of the the chamber that should have been addressed during City Hall’s construction.

“I hate to admit we messed up with the design, but we did – and we need to correct that,” he said.

Vancil said she supports the upgrades – especially because it could reduce costs for community and nonprofit use of the chamber – but wanted to accept the project on a phase-by-phase basis.

“I’m ready to start the process but not ready for the whole enchilada,” she said.

Knobloch stressed that the project’s process will allow the council to pull the reins if aspects are deemed unnecessary.

“At any time the council can say ‘whoa’ and have more discussion,” he said.

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