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$100K fix-up to make Gold Room shine

| Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

Allegheny County Council will hold at least three meetings in the Regional Enterprise Tower while its normal meeting place -- the Gold Room in the County Courthouse -- gets a $100,000 face-lift.

Carpenters, electricians and painters are installing a new public entrance, rigging new communication equipment and building a new dais for members. The public will get newly upholstered seats in what council members described as a modest upgrade for the room.

"We're not trying to put fancy furnishings in," said Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill. "We're trying to be conservative."

The county is paying for the project with money from a refinancing of construction bonds earlier this year.

County employees who are doing the work expect to complete the project by the end of September.

Council meetings scheduled for Aug. 23, Aug. 30 and Sept. 6 and possibly beyond will be held on the 31st floor of the Regional Enterprise Tower, 425 Sixth Ave., Downtown.

Fitzgerald said the project will improve accessibility for the disabled and upgrade communications equipment, which should reduce lost connections when absent council members dial in to meetings by phone.

The new dais is set off from the audience by a ramp on one side and steps on the other. The public, which formerly entered the room behind council members, will now be routed into the rear of the room through a new side hall.

That change addresses security concerns about people entering the room from behind the elected officials, said Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park.

Although the ramps, steps and new entrance mean the public will sit farther away from the council during meetings, Councilman Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, said they won't cause barriers to public contact.

Council and constituents will continue to mingle freely before and after meetings, Martoni said. Additionally, improvements designed to allow the county to broadcast its meetings, such as better lighting, space for cameras and electronic connections, could help make the body accessible to more people.

Investing in the renovations puts pressure on council to have its meetings on TV, Gastgeb said. "The only way it won't be a waste of money is if we get the meetings televised."

So far, the county has not succeeded in making arrangements to broadcast council meetings.

County Chief Executive Dan Onorato negotiated with the city of Pittsburgh earlier this year on splitting costs for a joint television production program. Those talks are stalled over cost concerns, said Ashley Henry, Onorato's spokeswoman. The mayor's office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The county made minor alterations to the Gold Room when the 15-member council replaced a three-member board of commissioners in 2000.

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