Stratford council meetings to remain virtual while city hall elevator repairs continue

Stratford council meetings to remain virtual while city hall elevator

Stratford politicians have decided against a return to in-person meetings while they wait for a broken elevator inside city hall to be fixed.

The decision was made unanimously at city council’s virtual meeting Monday evening following a brief update on the damaged lift from Stratford’s chief administrator.

“I can not give you a date at this point but we are getting much closer,” Joan Thomson told council at the meeting. “Based on the information that we have at hand it will be difficult to guarantee, but I think that if you wanted to defer this for a month I would be hopeful that we could come back (then) with clearer timelines.”

Public health restrictions that forced meetings online during the pandemic are long gone in Ontario but a January flood that caused significant damage to the only elevator at city hall is still preventing councilors from using their usual meeting space on the historic building’s topmost floor.

Administrators are hesitant to bring in-person meetings back while the elevator is down due to accessibility rules outlined in the province’s Municipal Act. Repairs to the lift, meanwhile, have taken longer than usual because of supply chain issues.

Councilors eager to meet in person again have recently been contemplating options to move sessions to another city-owned venue. The best option – the Stratford Rotary complex – comes with a big drawback, however. City staff have reported that the move would cost $3,500 to $5,000 per meeting, plus any revenue lost from the inability to rent out the space.

“That’s quite a bit of money we could put towards housing or other projects, especially now that we’ve done this (meeting online) now for a long time,” Coun. Bonnie Henderson said Monday. “I feel like we’re actually having more people participate by doing it this way. What if we spend all that money and then we’re able to start meeting in March?”

Although a return to in-person meetings hasn’t happened as quickly as many councilors would like, discussions about solutions have given the group an opportunity to consider what their meetings will look like when the elevator is repaired and certified.

Stratford clerk Tatiana Dafoe told council Monday that a true hybrid meeting model that would allow some councilors to attend in person and others to participate remotely will be difficult due to technology constraints in council chambers. However she does expect the city to continue streaming meetings over the internet when in-person meetings return.

Staff is also still planning to explore options for a secondary meeting location in the event the elevator breaks again, a concern brought to the meeting by Coun. Taylor Briscoe.

“Staff are going to be beginning that investigation as soon as possible,” Dafoe said. “Due to other priorities and just resource constraints, we haven’t started that conversation but we will be gathering necessary departments to identify available options which could include the Rotary Complex or alternative sites.”

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