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Citizen friendly chambers debuting
Upgrades improve accessibility, ability to follow meetings
The finishing troches were being put on the City Council chambers last week. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

A more citizen friendly Manteca City Council chambers debuts Tuesday.

That’s when the first council meeting takes place in the Civic Center public meeting chamber that has been remodeled as part of a $700,000 endeavor.

The work means:

•handicap access now meets all federal and state requirements from the parking lot to the speaker’s podium.

•those in the audience plus those watching via Comcast Channel 97 will be able to clearly hear the council conducting the public’s business.

•the audience will be able to view documents that are presented to the council via various flat screens.

•in the event of overflow crowds those standing in the hallways will be able to hear what is going on inside the council chambers.

And when the city completes implementing a paperless agenda system the public can download council documents and follow along on tablets and portable computers.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin noted the remodel was long overdue given the deterioration of the audio system that was 25 years old. She also indicated that major changes have occurred in handicapped accessibility laws since the Civic Center was built in the 1980s.

“Since we were doing it the council subcommittee (composed of) Debby Moorhead and Vince Hernandez insisted that it be done right without being extravagant since the improvements will need to last for a long time,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said she expects the current Civic Center location to handle municipal needs for at least 20 to 30 years. She pointed that there is room to expand near the Parks and Recreation complex. McLaughlin added the police department in the future could be separated from the Civic Center complex without posing problems for the public.

The city manager noted many communities prefer their city halls to be in downtown areas that tend to be in more central locations.  It also allows people to combine trips to city hall with other errands within walking distance. McLaughlin said city halls can also help increase foot traffic in downtown stores and restaurants.

That said, McLaughlin stressed there is no need on the horizon for a new Civic Center location.

McLaughlin added that the City Council has more pressing community needs they’d like to see completed first before a new city hall is even considered.

The council had originally wanted to keep the 70 plus chairs that the audience uses. But if they did they would be out of compliance with new ADA standards. New ADA standards frown upon permanent seating so the configuration can be easily changed if there are a larger number of people in wheelchairs that need to be accommodated.

The new chairs can be hooked together like a long string of Legos to form rows.

The sloping floor was leveled. Instead of two entrances — one of the west side and the other on the east side — there is now one main entrance facing the south.

The new entrance includes wider doors that open automatically with a push of a button.

The older doorways have been sealed off to allow for storage as well as a new high-low water fountain to accommodate the handicapped.

An access ramp complete with handrail leads to the dais to accommodate staff members or elected leaders who may be handicapped. That required the new U-shaped dais to be moved forward slightly.

Improvements also were made to the parking lot with access ramps and handrails installed.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.