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Council debates renovation plans

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Athens City Council debated plans to renovate their council chambers during Monday’s meeting. The renovations would make the room more accessible to disabled persons.

At-Large Rep. Chris Knisely announced the plan to purchase $24,000 worth of material in order to install items such as new carpet, ramps and a lowered desk. She would like to purchase the materials before council’s winter recess.

If a plan is not finalized before recess, then chamber renovations would likely be postponed until August of 2014.

Council members were made aware of the fact that city crews were not going to be available to work on the chambers over December. Thus, if the materials were purchased and received before recess, and if no other source of labor was found, the materials would have to be stored during recess.

Second Ward Rep. Jeffrey Risner voiced concern over buying the materials before recess and risking it being damaged in storage.

“I just have a feeling that we have a little undue haste here,” Risner said. “It just seems logical to me that you would order the equipment and begin using it immediately so it doesn’t come to any harm while in storage. If you put something in a garage, there’s always the possibility of if it breaks, and then you have to get it new and then the project is delayed.”

At-Large Rep. Steve Patterson responded to Risner’s concern of possible broken equipment.

“That could happen at anytime with anything,” Patterson said.

Patterson stated that accessibility is a “big time” issue to him and said renovations “could and should be done sooner rather than later.”

“Council is able to be flexible enough to where we can hold council meetings elsewhere if we need to,” Patterson said.

In fact, Patterson saw the chance to hold council meetings elsewhere as a means to increase their audience attendance.

“If we are able to have a council meeting on campus somewhere or at the community center, it might actually draw people who might not otherwise want to venture into the uptown area of Athens,” he said.

Regarding chamber renovations, however, First Ward Rep. Kent Butler brought another concern to the table: the use of local wood and other resources in the potential construction.

Risner also desired more discussion of local services in the renovation plans.

“My other concern is the demolition of the old equipment here,” Risner said. “I’d like to see that done locally if at all possible. I’d like to see our local dollars being recycled locally and not have to go out bringing a company from the outside and do everything.”

When asked if he thought it possible for local services to be used in demolishing old equipment if plans were finalized before winter recess, Risner responded with uncertainty.

“I don’t know for sure if that would happen,” he said. “No one has bothered to bring up figures about how much that is going to cost. We don’t know. And where would you get the labor? That’s a big unknown, and I just don’t see any need at the moment to really rush into something if we don’t have all our ducks in a row. We’re talking some real money here.”

Knisely stressed her desire for all council members to understand the plan fully and for all of their questions to be answered.

“I don’t want to move forward, obviously, without city administration support and council members being behind it,” she said.

Knisely believes that council will back the renovation once all questions are answered.

“I think it’s a matter of saying, ‘Now we have all our costs in the air,’” she said.

One cost that is still up in the air is the amount of money to be paid upfront. City Auditor Kathy Hecht asked if full price would have to be paid all at once to those selling the equipment.

“I wouldn’t be in favor of sending someone $25,000 upfront,” Hecht said. “Partial payments are not uncommon for orders or contractors or things like that. But a full amount, I wouldn’t be in favor of. We usually hold back something in case they don’t do a good job to get them to come back and fix it.”

Hecht said it does not sound like full price would have to be paid upfront, but the council is “not too sure.”

Knisely plans to answer further questions at Monday’s Council Committee meeting.

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