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A lack of appropriate meeting space or community space is an often-expressed concern among some in Madison, though a recent review of the town’s spaces found the first problem is simply finding them. The Economic Development Commission (EDC) recently approached the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to discuss the issue and offer a few ideas.
EDC Chair Ryan Duques told the BOS that EDC has been following the issues surrounding meeting space in the community, especially in light of the Academy School Community Center debate. In looking at the issue, Duques said on of the first things he found is that there is no easy way to look up all of the available spaces in town.
“We discovered it’s pretty hard to even get a list of the existing rooms that are available for the community to access,” he said. “It actually took me about two weeks of going around town and pulling that information from various departments. And I happen to know all of those departments exist, so I imagine a member of the community might have a more challenging time navigating all of that.”
Duques suggested the town should look at including some type of booking interface on the town website. Residents would then be able to go online, see what space exists and is available, and reserve space.
“When the new library comes on line, there will be 25 community spaces on last count and I suspect there are even more than that if we figured in the school buildings,” he said. “The technology allows the public to access that information, which not only affords them transparency on what is actually available in the community, but it also would allow us to gather analytical information on how many rooms or spaces are being used.”
First Selectman Tom Banisch said the town website does have some capacity for a booking system, but it is not currently being used. Duques said he also looked at a couple of other vendors just to get a sense of potential costs if the town website is currently insufficient.
“This is a move toward a one-portal access for resident services,” he said. “The total cost of this is probably about $1,000 per year, so it’s nominal and again it affords our residents a better service.”
Duques said a booking system would also give officials a better sense of how space is being used in town and if it is being used efficiently.
“This way the next time we go and look at a $3 million or $10 million or $100 million project, we should be better able to say, ‘Yes we need more space because we are at 95 percent capacity,’ or ‘No, we don’t,’ with greater confidence,” he said.
Banisch said he, too, likes the idea of getting some better space utilization analytics.
“I like the idea of having statistics and data about the usage, because we get a lot of complaints about there not being enough meeting space, but I think a lot of the times there is conflicts over when they want the room—everyone wants upper Memorial Town Hall on Tuesday at 7 p.m. but that doesn’t mean we don’t have other spaces,” he said.
Selectman Scott Murphy asked if this booking system, if adopted, would be just online or could the town look into adding things like maybe a booking kiosk or little screens outside various rooms in places like the Senior Center showing who booked the space. Duques said all those things are possible but that its likely best to start small.
“The one that I looked at is simply a web interface that would be built into the town website, but yes, you could go all the way to putting tablets outside each room,” he said. “My idea is let’s start with replacing a system that is antiquated currently.”
The selectmen agreed to do more research into the current capacity of the town website and how a booking system like this might be brought on. Selectman Al Goldberg said he thought this was a great idea and pointed out a few other things the town might want to consider.
“I think it’s a terrific idea and a good step forward,” he said. “I think we have to do a couple of things in order to make effective use of the software. One is we have to recognize some of the turf war issues that exists in booking space and secondly it would seem to me that there still would need to be a single individual that would allow the booking or approve the booking.”
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