More than $600,000 needed to update Halifax council chambers for hybrid meetings

HALIFAX, N.S. — Halifax’s council chambers need an upgrade to meet this new era of hybrid in-person/virtual meetings.

At the Halifax regional council meeting on Tuesday, staff will be asking for the green light to explore funding options to install “hybrid participation technology enhancements” for the council chamber.

The total estimate for a hybrid system, which includes replacing the current system, a move that is needed anyway, is $654,540. Hybrid-specific software costs $139,418 and $283,480 a year in operating costs (that’s system support, maintenance, and staff to run it).

Product of the pandemic

Making virtual meetings a regular event is, of course, a product of the pandemic. The province made changes to the HRM Charter in April 2021 to allow council and committees the ability to hold virtual meetings — with virtual public participation (via Zoom). The requirement being that people must be seen and heard.

In March 2022, staff updated council that the chambers and other meeting rooms didn’t have the technology for people to be seen and heard virtually. Council directed staff to determine exactly what would be needed to host hybrid meetings. In March 2023, staff came back with options. It was also noted by staff and the company HRM hired to support the technology, that the council chambers system is reaching the end of its life and would need a refresh before the end of this year.

Since late last year, they’ve used a work-around and there have been some hybrid meetings where members of the public could participate virtually for an in-person meeting. But because of the increase of use — and in other meeting spots other than council chambers — staff said it’s no longer sustainable to make it work with current resources.

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Needs replacement

The existing audio-visual system was installed in 2019, and the typical lifespan is around five years. The system shows councillors on the TVs for everyone in the gallery to see, vote results and speakers list. It was designed exclusively for in-person meetings.

Council and committee meetings are also live streamed.

In a report to council, staff say “a decision is required imminently” to redesign the technology to enable hybrid meetings to align with the refresh needed later this year.

It means, of course, an added expense as well as additional staffing needed to meet “increasing technology demands on all meeting types.”

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