Buzzwords aplenty were flying at last week’s regular meeting of Penticton council.
Media-rich environment, user-friendly, improved viewing experience and professional were just a few of the words and phrases being tossed around as council received a staff report on the costs to upgrade the admittedly aging audio visual equipment in council chambers.
“The audio video equipment is really starting to show its age. Eleven years ago when we put it in, it really was cutting edge, but as we all know, technology moves very fast,” said Kirstin Wilkes, the city’s information technology manager. “It was decided that this room was desperately in need of an overhaul.”
That not only includes the microphones speakers and projectors in the room, but the cameras and other systems used to record council meetings and broadcast them online. That is becoming an increasingly important communication channel, said Mayor Dan Ashton, as he justified the $88,519 cost of refurbishing the equipment, which is well over the $75,000 budget allocated to the project during the budget process last year.
“In my first term on council, we used to fill the chamber all the time. Now, there is more and more people that do watch online. That is where our biggest complaints come from,” said Ashton, adding that he feels the upgrades are a step in the right direction, and make a big difference ensuring that council is in full communication with the community.
“Is the time right? The time is right to make sure the information is getting out properly and efficiently.”
City manager Annette Antoniak confirmed that the majority of complaints come from people trying to watch online on their computers at home, citing poor sound quality and problems with streaming to Apple computers, iPads and other devices.
The upgrades will address sound issues, both in council chambers and online, by adding extra speakers and providing councillors with microphones that can be switched off, reducing background noise. But Wilkes said the upgrades will still not deal with compatibility problems for online streaming.
“Our presentations are not compatible if you are watching the broadcast online on a Mac,” she said. “Phase two of this will be done by in-house staff, and that is where we will be taking that into consideration.”
Sensory Perception Technologies, a local company, was awarded the contract to supply and install the new integrated system. It includes “push-to-talk” style microphones, which include a queuing system to track the order of councillors wishing to speak; additional speakers for improved sound; and inputs at each staff location around the table so that staff can control their own presentations without having to rely on the AV technician.
“The price seems large, but one thing to keep in mind here is that the lifespan of these systems is 10 years and can indeed go to 15 years. Our current equipment is 12 years old, and while it is starting to show its age, it still has functioned well for those 12 years,” said Wilkes. She doesn’t, however, think it’s likely that the city can recover any of the cost by selling the old equipment.
“Because it is 12 years old, the odds are not good. We have had some failures of that equipment so I personally would be hesitant,” said Wilkes. “I have spoken to Coun. Jakubeit about reusing some of the components perhaps to assist the RDOS.”