NORTH BATTLEFORD - City council meetings seem likely to be permanently leaving North Battleford City Hall.
Council has voted Monday in favor of a resolution authorizing the commencing of design work for a new Council chamber located at Room 107 at the Don Ross Centre. The resolution also permits administration to prepare the room to allow for in-person council meetings once the audio and visual systems are installed and pandemic numbers allow.
The proposed move is not yet a final decision and there will be further discussions during budget deliberations. But it comes in the wake of mounting concerns raised by council and administration in recent weeks about the current Chamber’s ability to host meetings.
The main issue driving the move is concern about accessibility at City Hall. The current Chamber is located on the upper floor and can only be accessed by the stairs. That made the Chamber almost impossible to access for those with mobility issues.
City Manager Randy Patrick said those individuals would need to appear by Zoom, or they would “have to carry them up the stairs, quite honestly. That is something we shouldn’t put anyone through.”
Building an elevator to access the upstairs Chamber would be costly, according to Patrick. He told council Monday that an elevator is estimated at upwards of $300,000 to $750,000 alone, but there would also need to be repairs to the City Hall building as well as upgrades to the existing chamber itself.
Instead, Patrick proposed a move to Room 107 at the Don Ross Centre. That space has typically been used for public meetings by the City and other groups in the past.
There would be renovations required, including carpeting, rebuilding of the desks, and equipping the space for sound and lighting. Patrick said the overall cost estimate would come in around $250,000.
“Council chambers are formal parts of the institution and to make that Council chamber that fits that bill is not inexpensive,” said Patrick. “It is a long term investment, it will last 25 years or longer like this one has, but they do eventually need refurbishments.”
The next step, according to Patrick, would be for council to take a look at the proposal as part of the formal budget process, and to begin the planning for that now.
If council were to proceed with it, the intention would then be to bring a couple of designs of the new chamber back to council next year for discussion.
The existing Chamber at City Hall has not hosted a meeting live since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Since then, meetings have either been staged virtually on Zoom, or have been held at the Chapel Gallery from Nov. 2020 to Sept. 2021.
The initial reaction from council to the move seemed positive. Coun. Kelli Hawtin said she “long supported having a council chamber that is accessible to all people. The chambers we have now is not accessible and if administration feels like this is a suitable space, it is certainly less expensive and more feasible than trying to put an elevator into City Hall for example.”