Council chambers at Preston City Hall is currently being remodeled.
Council chambers at Preston City Hall is currently being remodeled.
They removed the paneling...

And then there was light!

(And it was good!)

"We added a window at the end of the room because there used to be glass block here that was closed off, and the dark paneling didn't help," said Preston City Administrator Joe Hoffman, surveying progress in the Preston City Hall council meeting room. The space is now undergoing a long-awaited renovation that includes the removal of dated, somewhat-despised dark wood paneling and the accompanying blue floral draperies.

Construction began on Aug. 7 and is expected to be complete by mid-October, if all goes as planned.

The newly-renovated council meeting room will feature updated audio and video wiring and equipment, and everyone's comfort has been taken into consideration.

"The purpose this is being done is for the public - we're renovating everything to make meetings more accessible," Hoffman explained. "We want them to be able to hear and see what's happening in meetings. We plan to incorporate a Powerpoint presentation into each meeting so people can see it on the wall behind the council instead of having to guess what part of a map the council is looking at, and there's been a request by the public for a sound system to be put in, a microphone for each council member."

Furthermore, since the council has spent the past 16 years convening around a table that places some members with their backs to the public, the plan is to replace that table.

"We'll be transitioning from a large oval table to a horseshoe table. It'll be easier for people in the gallery to know who's speaking and staff will be able to see the gallery," Hoffman added. "And there'll be nicer chairs for the gallery - instead of those hard fold-up chairs, we're getting some nice padded chairs."

The project has been long-awaited, as renovations and repairs to other parts of the city hall and library building have taken precedence over the council meeting room until now.

Hoffman explained, "In 1996, when we remodeled city hall, we knew that we had to draw the line somewhere, and these were the city offices - everything was run right out of here at one point. They moved out of here, made this into the council meeting room. They'd had the remodeling fund forever, and it got to the point where the fund was sufficient and we stopped allocating to it every year because we had the funds to do this project."

He gave a short history of the century-old building's modifications, noting that the current city hall used to serve as the fire hall, after which the fire hall was moved across the street and offices were installed.

"In 2003, we did the windows in the council room and the library, and in 2005, we put a police office in the break room, which was an old storage room...we put in sheet rock and a new ceiling and made it a professional space," Hoffman added. "Last year, we restored the library stage, and this year, it's the council room and offices and break room."

Leftover funds from the council meeting room renovation will be used to update the break room and conference room, as the existing spaces are a common area.

"We need a proper place to store records, and we're putting in a divider to have a secure conference room. We'll be able to hold meetings of the city boards there," he said.

The city chose to hire as many local contractors as possible for the project.

"We had to put it out for bids, of course," Hoffman related, "but we tried to do the right thing and put the money back into the local economy. H & J Construction is our general contractor, Larson's did the plumbing and HVAC, Morem Electric out of Harmony is wiring it, Distinctive Communications, or Jeff Bennett, is doing our telecommunications, and Dave Anderson is doing our sound system."

The project has caused few disruptions in city business, as it is out of the way of the established city offices.

Hoffman concluded, "Hopefully we'll be back to normal in another month or so. We've been holding council meetings at the fire hall, and the only real challenge has been keeping the public informed as to where we are. I think it's gone pretty well, and the public has been very understanding."