When the Auburn City Council returns to in-person meetings Tuesday, the Auburn community will have an opportunity to see the long-awaited new Council chamber.
“It is the Auburn people’s place of government,” Mayor Ron Anders said in a phone interview. “The new Council chamber is going to be a wonderful place to make policy and decisions to put Auburn into the future.”
Ready for more than half a year since its completion, the coronavirus pandemic kept the new Council chambers out of use while City Council and other city boards and commissions moved to virtual meetings last March.
But now, the City Council will once again meet face-to-face with limited capacity at 6:55 p.m. at its April 6 regular meeting, after announcing the move in a Thursday, March 26 press release.
The chamber, housed in the new Public Safety Building at 141 N Ross Street Suite B, sits across the hallway from the new Municipal Court, accessible on the north side of the complex facing the old Public Safety facility and Glenn Avenue.
The new building also houses the public safety administration, the Auburn Police Division, Auburn Fire Station No. 1 and the emergency management/communication section.
Those visiting the chamber will find a temporary covered walkway accessible from Ross Street near the northeast corner of the building while the parking lot is under construction. Signs are posted throughout the Public Safety Building’s exterior to guide visitors, too.
The chambers were designed for a maximum capacity of 170, but capacity will be limited Tuesday night to ensure social-distancing due to the pandemic. In the event of a large crowd, audience overflow will be held in the lobby and the Auburn Municipal Court.
The former council chamber, housed in the development services building beside the new facility, was demolished for parking for the new Public Safety Building. The City Council, Planning Commission and Municipal Court all formerly shared the old chamber.
“We’re happy to be here in our new council chambers, and we’re happy to have our first meeting next week on April 6,” said David Dorton, director of public affairs for the City of Auburn. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Drawing inspiration from a number of regional council chambers, the new chambers features acoustic panels to cancel echoes, American with Disability Act (ADA) accessibility entrances and seating, increased space for citizens to speak at a lectern and, for now, plastic partitions between councilpersons.
A designated row of seating in the front of the room is reserved for city staffers who often report to the council on city affairs, such as the city engineer. Behind the council’s dais at the front of the room sits a conference room to be used for other meetings and closed to the public executive sessions.
David Ponder of the city’s project manager facilities says he is pleased with the completion of the new council chambers.
“The new facility is modern and up-to-date,” Ponder said. “It will bring the council chambers into the 21st century.”
To remain accessible to virtual viewers, meetings will still be closed-captioned, and the city will continue to livestream meetings on the city’s YouTube and Facebook pages, just as it did prior to the pandemic.
“We’ll have a new streaming service in the sense that we’ve got in-room cameras instead of just standing cameras up in the back of the room,” Dorton said, referring to the pre-pandemic video streaming set-up. “We’ll be able to pan and zoom and tilt. We’ll add the PEG channels (Public, Educational and Governmental) on WOW and Charter, the public access channels soon.”
Eventually, Dorton says, the council agenda will be integrated onto the new screens as the council conducts its meetings. After the meetings, citizens will be able to visit the city’s website, click on an agenda item and view the corresponding video.
“Tuesday will just be streaming and then we’ll be adding those other features to this new system,” Dorton said.
Seay, Seay & Litchfield, LLC of Montgomery served as the architect for the new Public Safety Building project. The firm also provided professional services for Auburn University’s Ross Hall renovation, Risk Management Safety building, Jordan-Hare Stadium renovations and the off-campus Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house.