Inside Out

Kentwood, Mich.'s City Hall gets a technology makeover.

by / January 2, 2006
In 2003, Kentwood, Mich., officials knew it was time to do something about City Hall, a building plagued with many problems, including a faulty heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and leaky roof.

Also, its commission chamber was not large enough to handle the number of citizens at public meetings.

Kentwood faced significant population growth. The U.S. Census Bureau named the city, located a few miles south of Grand Rapids, the fastest growing in west Michigan and one of the five fastest-growing cities in the state.

As more homes and businesses were built, more people began participating in city commission hearings and proceedings. At many city or planning commission meetings, citizens sat on the floor in a 90-degree room waiting to voice their opinions to city officials.

There was talk of completely removing the existing building, but officials said they knew the building, built in 1978, remained structurally sound. With the proper redesign, it could meet city needs for many years to come.

Building Bigger
Kentwood officials decided to keep the building's foundation and shell, but completely gut the inside -- a task simplified by relying on technology. Digital cameras, monitors and screens made it possible to meet Kentwood's expanding needs.

"We used technology to make the building bigger," said Steve Kepley, Kentwood city engineer, and director of engineering and inspections. "Why pay for bricks and mortar when savings can be obtained through technology?"

Central Interconnect Inc., a Grand Rapids company specializing in telephone, video and sound systems, was contracted to design and install a system that would allow people to see and hear what is taking place in the commission chamber from different areas throughout the building.

The fully integrated system, operational since December 2004, includes two ELMO PTC-100R digital cameras; a ceiling-mounted, high-resolution ELMO HV-C1000XG document camera with a wide-angle lens adapter; a Crestron controller; JBL speakers; and Biamp Audia digital audio platform, monitors, projectors and screens.

The pan/tilt/zoom digital cameras can be focused on commission members or individuals making presentations. High-resolution images are captured and displayed to the audience on two screens in the chambers via projectors.

View From Above
The document camera allows participants to present documents in sizes ranging from business cards to large drawings to city commission members.

This is especially useful for developers, architects, zoning boards, planning commissions and others dealing with site plans, blueprints, maps or other large documents.

The camera delivers high-resolution video images -- at 20 frames per second -- of documents, photographs and three-dimensional objects without taking up any table or floor space.

Presenters can show close-up images by zooming in with the 24X -- 12X optical and 2X digital -- zoom control. They can also draw on the screen with digital pads to highlight areas of the documents being displayed. Everything that takes place in the commission chamber is also digitally recorded so the county clerk can document the proceedings.

While the audience in the chambers views the proceedings on two large screens, 50 or more additional people can watch on another screen in an overflow room outside the chambers. People can see the proceedings on a flat-screen monitor and hear through speakers in the atrium as well.

Kentwood city commissioners view the proceedings on individual monitors in the dais, and staff members can view the proceedings on monitors in their offices, allowing them to continue working until it is time for their presentations in the chambers.

MPEG encoding delivers high-quality video and high compression for streaming info to the desktop. The ELMO digital cameras in the commission chamber can also be used for cable TV broadcasting, though this application is not currently in use in Kentwood.

The complete system is controlled from an audio/visual station adjacent to the commission chamber.

Long-Term Success
Word has spread about the technology's successful performance in Kentwood, and city officials said representatives from other municipalities are now coming to the city to tour the building and see how the system operates.

"These days, everybody is looking for practical, cost-effective ways to increase efficiency and productivity," Kepley said. "Technology saved Kentwood tax payers more than $3 million by preserving the old building's foundation and shell. Using technology not only saved money, but will meet Kentwood's needs for decades to come."
Rich Barron Contributing Writer