April 4, 2012 By Colin Wood
Bay City, Mich., is using the October 2010 fire that pushed the local government out of its historic City Hall building one Tuesday afternoon as an opportunity to upgrade the building’s infrastructure.
The fire was started accidentally by a roof worker grinding down bolts. The contained fire set off the sprinkler system, which pumped 20,000 gallons of water through the building, much of which wound up in the server room on the ground floor. Bay City will continue to repair water damage during the next seven months, and is using the opportunity to include a $100,000 IT upgrade.
Having the building torn apart already will make the technology upgrades much easier, Bay City IT director Tony Reyes said. “Some of those floors and walls are two feet thick,” Reyes said. “We needed to add a little more infrastructure anyway.”
Previously all computers in the building received network connections via Cat 5 cables that ran from the server room, sometimes through several relay switches, which could drop speeds down to 10 megabits per second, Reyes said. “Now we’re running fiber to each floor and going from the phone closets on those floors out Cat 6 to the PCs,” he said. “So now we’ll have a gigabit all the way to the desktop.”
Upgrading the network was also necessary to accommodate a new VoIP system the city paid for with insurance funding, Reyes said.
Along with a new voice and data backbone, City Hall now is able to complete another project conceived before the fire, Reyes said. The City Commission chambers will receive hardware that enables webcasting of meetings, he said.
Three fixed cameras, eight PCs, a video projector, a 64-inch television for an overflow room, and a control system for the entire rig will allow the commission to broadcast meetings online, replacing a local cable broadcast. For the past six months, the city hasn’t broadcasted meetings and some citizens have noticed and requested that the broadcasting resume, Reyes said.
Some of those same politically-involved citizens don’t agree with the city’s decision to preserve the late-19th-century City Hall building.
Though much of the restoration is covered by insurance funding, some citizens think that restoring the old building is a waste of time and that a new building would have been a faster and cheaper solution, said Dana Muscott, deputy city manager of administrative services and city clerk.
The restoration will include historically accurate light fixtures, chairs and interior paint, Muscott said. And though the City Hall building is covered by historic preservation code and therefore not subject to many building codes, they decided to implement Americans With Disabilities Act upgrades to the restrooms and raise some of the shorter railings to make them safer, she said.
“It’s such an old, historic building and you can see that building from anywhere when you cross over the river,” Muscott said. “It’s a charm in our community.”
Bay City is characterized by its charming buildings in downtown, Muscott said. There is a presence of family-owned restaurants and businesses and an absence of fast-food joints or chain stores, she said. “We have a street called Center Avenue that has old historic mansions from back in the lumbering days,” she said.
In Bay City there are about 15,000 households, people who live either to the east or the west of the Saginaw River, a 22-mile ribbon of water that bisects the city and flows northward into Lake Huron.
In the summer, the river is host to concerts and festivals, including an annual three-day fireworks festival. This summer will be the 50th anniversary of the Bay City Fireworks Festival, which is expected to pop 40,000 fireworks in 40 minutes.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.