Officials are bracing for plumes of construction dust as crews start work to expand and renovate the City Council chambers.
Officials are trying to achieve two objectives: expand the dated second floor meeting room so more people can attend public meetings, and update the video system so people who can't be present can watch on television instead.
Both are tall orders that are long overdue, officials said.
“We're going to have more seating and greatly enhanced video and audio for our Channel 3,” City Manager Mark McDaniel said last week. “This is something we budgeted for and we're moving forward with it.”
Work kicks off in a matter of days and is expected to last into January, barring unforeseen glitches that are common during renovations.
In its current state, the council chambers features 1970s-style gold shag carpet on the walls, presumably to help muffle sound, and worn, buckled blue carpet on the floors.
Those retro touches are expected to go, but the historic wood molding and other period details stay, officials said.
Crews plan to demo a wall to expand the space and take in part of a third room, transforming the latter into a type of recording studio. Equipment upgrades are also part of the $350,000 project.
A dedicated funding source, earmarked specifically for improving and enhancing transparency in local government, will cover most of the project, with a small amount coming from the capital project fund, officials said.
City leaders, discussing the anticipated changes last week, seemed almost giddy with excitement.
“No, I'm not sad, I'm looking forward to it,” Mayor Barbara Bass said. “I'm excited.”
The completed project is expected to boost seating capacity from 56 to about 80 in the chambers with additional viewing opportunities offered in an adjacent overflow room.
The mayor said the room's layout essentially reverses so that the council will sit where the audience normally does, and vice versa.
Next week's Planning and Zoning meeting, which includes a public hearing on proposed zoning changes governing legalized beer and wine sales, is be held there.
The gathering, set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, will give city staff an opportunity to test out video capabilities, External Relations Director Susan Guthrie said.
The Tyler City Council is also expected to hold its Nov. 28 meeting at the performance hall and receive a detailed report on the expected renovations.
The mayor said the timing of the work is not coincidental.
“We had a huge project we were looking at before the economy turned down,” she said. “We deferred doing that project because we wanted to make sure we could afford what we're doing.”
Officials said the bulk of the money comes from a special franchise fee paid to the city by cable companies, and can't be spent on anything other than communication enhancements.
As part of the project, officials plan to upgrade equipment used to support Channel 3 and create special projects, such as video stories for the Half Mile of History Markers, located around the downtown square.
On the topic of new computers, videographer Stephen Self is delighted.
He sees plenty of trouble ahead for equipment that's well past its prime, and relief that a fix is on the way.
“It (equipment) runs 24-7,” he said. “Most of what we have is eight years old, which is pretty old for this type of equipment. We always feel like we're on the threshold of going off the air.”
Self said he and others are very conscious of the bottom line, so they waited to make sure future equipment purchases are good quality and well designed.
Tyler City Hall, 212 N. Bonner Ave., was completed in 1938, based on a design created by architect T. Shirley Simons, Sr.
The Depression-era construction was first financed as part of a Works Progress Administration project, designed to boost and strengthen the economy.
City Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, records show.
Earlier efforts to restore those areas revealed a treasure trove of original touches, namely wood parquet flooring and terrazzo tile.
“The original floor had been covered up by carpet,” Ms. Guthrie said, pointing out earlier restoration efforts in the “state room,” a second-floor meeting room used for small gatherings and press conferences.
In spite of cosmetic changes intended for the council chambers, the real plus of the project is making sure people can access it, Ms. Guthrie said.
“From a transparency in government standpoint, when people can't get into the room, that's not a good thing,” she said.