It’s been nearly 30 years since Fuquay-Varina’s Town Hall was built, and until recently, the main board room showed its age. The carpet was worn, the town logo behind the dais was eight months out of date, and the chairs set out for the public were mismatched and uncomfortable.
But a renovation process that has been ongoing since late this summer has brought the room into the 21st century. The carpet was replaced, as were the chairs, podium, logo and overhead lights.
The aesthetic and ergonomic upgrades highlight accessibility improvements that bring the town in line with what’s now common, if not standard, among towns of a similar size.
Four flat-panel TV screens positioned around the council chambers have replaced the single projector screen that occupied the front-left corner of the room. It was a location that required those sitting beyond the sixth or seventh rows during one well-attended meeting last spring to walk up to the front and sit on the floor to see what was being discussed.
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“The TV screens, I think, are very well-placed,” Mayor John Byrne said. “I’ve kind of sat back in different seats, and if you can’t see a TV screen, it’s because you’re not looking for one.”
Additional TV screens outside the board room will allow overflow crowds to watch and hear what’s happening inside the chambers.
Altogether, the renovation process cost the town $195,000, a small fraction of the $1.2 million the board had set aside years ago for the construction of a new facility. When the town decided to forgo that structure, the extra $1 million was instead redirected to the town’s new Arts Center, Town Manager Adam Mitchell said.
“Most of the time we’re not overflowing, but it does happen once in a while, and we have accommodations now to deal with that,” Byrne said. “I believe that the size of the facility is adequate for what we need to do.”
Each board member now has on the dais a touchscreen that mirrors what’s on the TV screens facing the public, as well as a microphone calibrated to his or her voice to ensure that even the most soft-spoken town officials can be heard throughout the chambers and on recordings of the meetings.
The town clerk’s desk now has a large digital clock screen on it facing the podium, with a timer set to count down from three minutes. Other towns have similar clocks or time-management systems to keep speeches from extending public hearings far into the night, but this is the first time Fuquay-Varina has attempted to enforce a time limit for comments from residents.
Byrne appeared disappointed that Rose Rich, the town clerk, wasn’t given the opportunity to try it out at the board’s sedate Oct. 3 meeting.
“You’re going to see where the real authority is,” Byrne joked. “She’s got a hook, too. She can go out there and pull you in.”
The town’s Information Technology staff have also installed cameras near the front of the board room, which will eventually record meetings. But Scott Clark, the town’s IT director, said audio and video of meetings won’t be posted online until the town decides on protocols for doing so.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan