Kansas City Council moves into 21st-century chambers

Gone will be the huge three-ring binders holding voluminous agendas.

Gone will be the projectors and giant screens displaying information that elected officials could see but the audience could not.

Today the Kansas City Council welcomes the 21st century.

It will move back into its 26th-floor chamber, which has had its first renovation since the 1980s, along with technology upgrades.

The cost: $436,000.

It includes new tablet computers that will soon allow council members to access information at their fingertips, and to record their votes electronically. Wall-mounted monitors will allow the audience to see presentations, and to follow those council votes, more easily.

The cost is justified, council members say, both to preserve history and to embrace the future.

“We’re way behind the times,” said Councilman John Sharp, noting that many smaller school boards and city councils went to laptops years ago. “We should’ve gone paperless a long time ago.”

The chamber also got a major facelift that included refinishing desks and other furnishings dating to 1937, when City Hall was completed.

Gone are the broken chairs, leak stains across the ceiling, and carpet with nearly 30 years worth of dirt.

“When you haven’t done anything for decades, it’s going to cost something to get you up to date,” Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo said.

City Architect Eric Bosch said these are the first improvements to the chamber since 1983, when fire in the air-handling system caused considerable smoke damage to the large room, which seats several hundred people. At that time, it was cleaned and new carpeting was installed.

The time, the wood and marble walls that grace the room were again cleaned, the ceiling and lights were repaired and reconditioned, and new carpet, paint, window treatments and furniture were added to enhance the existing furnishings.

The city spent about $254,000 on construction and electronics; about $96,000 on furniture and refinishing, $32,000 on the tablets and about $54,000 on project management costs.

City Clerk Vickie Thompson-Carr gave the improvements “two thumbs up” and said the computers will save her staff “tremendously” in time preparing council binders and in paper costs.

Council members won’t be trained on the new computers until Dec. 12, but the public will get its first look at the new/old Chamber today.

Councilwoman Jan Marcason, chair of the Finance and Governance Committee, praised the project and the result.

“It’s protecting history,” she said. “You have a historic Chamber. You owe it to the citizens and to the office to keep it well maintained.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-234-4317 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.