Home Politics City council set to purchase chamber renovation equipment this year

City council set to purchase chamber renovation equipment this year

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Watch video coverage of the Athens City Council here.

Two weeks ago, The New Political reported on city council’s plans to renovate its chamber and on their disagreements regarding the time frame for the project. Now, council has decided to purchase the equipment necessary and begin renovations early next year.

“I’m hopeful it will be done in January or February,” At-Large Rep. Steve Patterson.

The goal of the renovations is to make meeting attendance more accessible to persons with disabilities. Patterson pointed out International Day of Persons with Disabilities was Dec. 3, and it was the first time the city of Athens celebrated the event in its 11 year history.

Patterson considers advocacy for people with disabilities to be one of his most important issues, so he was a proponent for buying the equipment this year.

At-Large Rep. and Chair of the Finance & Personnel Committee Chris Knisely also pushed for purchasing the equipment this year. Acceptance was garnered at the committee meeting last week, following the previous meeting that introduced the proposal.

“When we had the finance committee last week—I reviewed it again today just to make sure I was remembering correctly—all council members said they were interested in trying to move the council chamber renovations forward this year,” Knisely said.

Knisely detailed expected changes to come.

“This dais will be moved from the south side of the room to the north side,” Knisely said. “And we’re going to lower it.”

Patterson added that a ramp will be added to the dais in case a person with a disability is ever elected to office.

One issue with the changes, however, may be the fact that the council chamber is on the third floor of the city building. The only way up or down from the third floor is one elevator, which would not operate in a fire.

Knisely was asked to respond to this potential problem.

“We’re hopeful that that kind of thing wouldn’t happen because we have close access with the fire department,” Knisely said. “It could potentially be a concern if we were in an emergency situation. We do have a fire escape in the back, and so that’s been having some repairs and renovations.”

Patterson also acknowledged the problems that could arise from this situation.

“Most elevators shut down in an emergency situation,” Patterson said. “There is a fire escape in the backside of the building here. If push came to shove, you grab somebody and you carry them.”

He also said the elevator is on the agenda to be renovated “at some point in time.”

Renovations will not be able to take place during recess, meaning they will be underway during the beginning of the next year.

Knisely said council is looking at alternative places to hold their meetings in the meantime.

“We have a number of possibilities, one of which Scott Thompson, our director, said last week we could even set up tables in here temporarily while it’s under construction,” Knisely said. “The courtroom that’s on the second floor [of the city building] was the old city council chambers.”

Patterson expressed his desire to use the renovations as an opportunity to hold meetings on OU’s campus.

“We could hold them in the community center, and this has been discussed before, in Walter Hall or somewhere on campus,” Patterson said. “Something like that would be an interesting venue because I think we would make ourselves more accessible to the student body and faculty and staff if they chose to come out. I think it’s an interesting notion to make ourselves mobile during the renovation period.”

Caitlin Roberts, president of OU College Democrats, was asked if her organization would be more likely to attend city council meetings held on campus.

“Maybe, if our members wanted to attend the meetings,” Roberts said. “It’s not something we’ve really done in the past.”

Roberts also pointed out the city building is not far from students as it is.

“The city council building, it’s not that far from campus for people to attend,” Roberts said. “It’s just not something we’ve ever really done.”

Although she was unsure as to whether or not on-campus meetings would increase attendance, Roberts said they “might help raise awareness that the city council meetings are happening.”

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