Public Works Director Paul Woodard stopped in the middle of the Janesville City Council chambers Friday morning and glanced around at the council dais, wooden wall paneling and the board that displays members’ votes with red and green bulbs.
Since City Hall was built 50 years ago at 18 N. Jackson St., the council chambers haven’t changed.
“If you look back at the dedication ceremony from 1968, it looks exactly the same,” he said.
City Hall’s roof hasn’t been replaced since 1989, and it’s due for repair next year. City officials figured as long as they’re upgrading the roof, the chambers could use some attention.
“The idea is to refresh it because this is like the living room, if you will, of a house,” Woodard said of the chambers. “It’s the space that people come into, and you want an up-to-date look.”
Part of the plan to upgrade the chambers is to, in a somewhat literal sense, make government more transparent by installing more glass.
From outside the chambers, residents can’t see what’s going on inside without peeking through a door. City officials leave the chambers’ doors open during meetings to make things more transparent, but noise from residents leaving and lingering in the hallways can be distracting, Woodard said.
With some glass installed in the walls and doors, the doors could remain closed but residents still could see what’s happening. There are plans to install a video monitor outside the chambers to give residents a live feed of meetings, Woodard said.
The chamber floor is flat, and it’s not realistic to renovate the space into a stepped room with the council sitting at the lowest level. Instead, a sloped ceiling will be installed, Woodard said.
“The idea is to create an illusion of a stepped look so that the audience is looking down at the council at the dais, so we’re trying to do that without raising the floor,” he said.
When city officials are giving presentations, information is projected onto a side wall, requiring residents and council members to turn their heads to face it. The city plans to do away with that and install two monitors in the corners of the room behind the council dais so residents can face forward during the duration of meetings, Woodard said.
The dais itself also will be altered. It will be more curved so council members can more easily address each other. The outdated system of buttons, levers and switches council members use to vote and indicate they want to speak will be replaced with a system that will allow them to perform such functions with their city-issued iPads. Votes will be displayed on the monitors instead of on the traditional voting board, Woodard said.
Currently, the room has two lecterns—one on each side of the room—for residents and others to address the council. A third will be made available to be placed in the middle, he said.
“That gives us options in terms of the use of the room,” Woodard said.
The upgrades also will include technology that allows hearing-impaired residents to have audio transmitted directly into their hearing aids, he said.
The city will portion off a small office space for council members to use. At a November meeting, several council members indicated they didn’t need such a space.
City Manager Mark Freitag said the office could be used by city employees when council members weren’t using it. The office will allow members to have a place to work or meet with residents on weekends at City Hall, he said.
Major work will begin in April and end in June. Further audiovisual work will be complete by Aug. 3, which is the 50th anniversary of City Hall’s dedication, Woodard said.
During the work, employees on the fourth floor, including the city manager’s office, will relocate, likely to the former Blackhawk Bank building, which the city owns. Meetings normally held in the chambers will be relocated, possibly to the Janesville Senior Center, Woodard said.
Woodard said costs associated with the council chambers remodeling have not yet been segregated from the total project cost of $1.1 million, most of which will go toward roof and mechanical work.