The council had a light agenda, with no real hot-button issues, thrusting the sound woes into the spotlight. After the meeting — and during — those in attendance talked about how they understood little.
Lifelong city resident Jack Fincher said he could hear only “some mumbles.”
“I could tell they were talking, but that’s it,” the sixth-generation Canton resident said, walking out of the room after having missed most of what the council said.
But once the problems are fixed, Fincher thinks the room will be good for Canton.
“I think it’s going to give people enough space to come to meetings,” he said. “But the flip side of that coin is, if they can’t hear and participate in the meetings, they’re not going to come. Whatever they’re doing, they need to tweak it.”
Canton paid roughly $750,000 to renovate the room, which also houses Municipal Court, after the council voted to approve the project last year. Before the city bought the building, now acting as City Hall, in 2005, the room had been the sanctuary at First Baptist Church of Canton for more than half a century. The work was funded with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars and was primarily done because of asbestos in the ceiling, among other issues.
Thursday’s meeting was the council’s second in the room, which has large chandeliers, ornate work on the carpentry, a new dais and an extensive audio-visual setup.
The city is aware of the problems.
Councilman Glen Cummins, who the council is considering as the next city manager, said the city
is getting quotes from acoustical engineers to fix the problems, because the architect didn’t look into the acoustics.
“He was supposed to design this inside here so that we didn’t have an acoustical problem, and it was not designed,” Cummins said after the meeting. “Our assumption was that the architect was taking care of the acoustics … Another problem you have right now is they’re not used to talking into the mics.”
The city hired Mark Robillard, a Canton-based architect, to design the renovations. Previously, he has worked on the Canton YMCA, the Canton Theatre, Booth Western Museum in Cartersville, Ball Ground City Hall and other local projects.
According to the city, Robillard charged $15,000 for the design on the council chambers job, but he was candid Friday, saying the acoustics hadn’t been considered in the project.
“We just did a sound system,” Robillard said. “We didn’t get into the acoustics, since we weren’t really changing anything. That’s not something we really looked at, the sound design. That’s why we built in contingency money for anything that’s unforeseen.”
The city couldn’t immediately provide a definite number on how much was left in contingency Friday. As of three weeks ago, there was a little less than $15,000.
Cummins said the council may decide to try to make Robillard cover the cost of the new design work. But he said it will depend on a lot of factors, particularly how much the new work will cost. Cummins added it might not be his decision if the council votes in July to hire him to replace Scott Wood permanently as city manager, after serving as the interim since January.
Seeing the issues now, Robillard said he guessed the new ceiling may be causing the problems, because it’s a smoother surface than before.
The ceiling was one of the main reasons Canton decided to move ahead with the renovations last September, even though council members weren’t happy with the overall cost.
“We had to do this room,” Cummins said. “The ceiling was all asbestos. It was falling down, so legally we had to do the room.”
Ironically, some in the city were also anxious to move to the new chambers because of sound issues in the old chambers.
“A lot of times, people can’t really hear unless you lean forward and speak into that microphone,” Mayor Gene Hobgood said last September.
Councilman Hooky Huffman had concerns about the project in the beginning, but is a fan of council’s new home.
“Of course, we all know the sound needs to be worked on, which we will do,” he said.
Huffman, like others in the city, had concerns about the cost initially. He declined to talk about the money Thursday night, because the project was already basically over.
Since the city has the made-over room, Huffman said he was pleased.
“It’s beautiful,” he said after the meeting. “I think the citizens ought to be real proud when they come in and see this.”