The $500,000 price tag for upgrades to the council chambers of the Cochrane RancheHouse received a mixed review by town council.

It was part of $1.25 million in renovations in the Cochrane RancheHouse included in the 2024 budget that was subject to review by council before proceeding.

The majority of councillors favoured proceeding, some reluctantly, but more information will be coming back to council before a final decision is reached.

chambers layoutProposed layout for the council chambers.

Council viewed a design that would optimize use of the space, increase the size of the public gallery by 10 more seats to 56, improve security and safety for council, staff and visitors, and replace aging furniture. Forty per cent of the budget would be used to modernize the audio-visual and other information technology (IT) equipment required to improve functionality and reliability.

The $200,000 price tag for the technology upgrade came under particular fire in the discussions.

Councillor Morgan Nagel, who works in digital media, questioned the price tag for the technological upgrades.

"Much of the software and the hardware is so accessible that I just have a hard time believing we actually need to spend $200,000 on audio video equipment unless we 're trying to go with the Cadillac, most convenient, most awesome setup."

He believes it should cost hundreds of dollars per seat not tens of thousands per seat.

Although he liked the plans and believe it would result in improvements, he repeated the opposition he expressed to the entire renovation during budget deliberations.

"I think it's the wrong priority for our community," said Nagel. "I also think it sends the wrong message to our community. I think lots of families are suffering from a very serious affordability crisis in our country, and I think renovating the government headquarters like this is the wrong priority and the wrong way to spend $1.25 million."

Councillor Alex Reed eventually accepted the need for the renovations but insists the project come in on budget and on schedule.

"In fact, I will not support any budget overage in term of this and it better come in on budget. I'm not really crazy about going forward with it but it's almost like a necessary evil for me."

Already the amount of work the town had hoped to complete within the $1.25 million budget has been reduced. It was originally expected to include the development of an expanded emergency command centre (ECC), something both Reed and Nagel believe is more of a priority.

Mayor Jeff Genung says it's not about nice to haves, it's about needs. He's come to see what technology other municipal governments utilize and says we're decades behind.

"It's way more interactive and way more user friendly, even from someone who doesn't use anything like that. I'm a paper person.

"It's not throwing money at something. It's actually spending good money after good money."

Genung says council needs to take into account the implications of the Bill 20, currently awaiting Royal Assent. Among its impact is the requirement for municipalities to fully allow people to participate in public hearings remotely.

Not coming under fire were renovations to the east and west wings of the Cochrane RancheHouse that will add 25 new workspaces, four meeting and collaboration rooms and other common staff areas. Pre-construction work is now underway to complete those renovations within the year.

CAO Mike Derricott says the economy of scales weigh in favour of completing the chamber renovations at the same time as the work elsewhere in the RancheHouse.

"This is a practical project, not a vanity project or a luxury project. This is to increase the efficiency of the space where some of the most important business that the organization engages in happens."

Council chamber renovations will likely go ahead, and when they do, it is anticipated council will have to meet virtually for up to eight weeks.

The discussions took place during the June 17 committee-of-the-whole meeting, where no formal decisions are reached.