Municipal Round Table Discussion

June 17, 2020

As a continuation of our Round Table Discussion series, we recently had a virtual conversation with our clients and municipal leaders to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted them, and what strategies and tactics they have been implementing in their communities. TRIAD’s Brent Foley began this session by asking participants about experienced challenges and opportunities that have transpired during this time.

To distill the information, discussion topics were broken down into three categories.

Technology has played a critical role in keeping everyone connected and maintaining business as usual. As with most organizations, the community leaders all talked about how they had to adjust to the circumstances.  Jennifer Chrysler (City of New Albany) helped inform the group about how they started to utilize remote building inspections on many of the local construction projects.  Since these new procedures have been put into action in New Albany, it has helped for a quick turn-a-round on inspections and has kept projects on schedule.

The electronic public bidding has also been a change that has seen a lot of success on the community projects.  Moving forward, the participants want to see this as a permanent change.  Alan Rothermel (City of Sunbury) expressed that “live streaming meetings have been positive and will continue.” Steve Studenmund (Columbus Metro Parks) disclosed that because many facilities are closed, they had to adjust how they accept bids and have also started having bid openings outside.

As great as technology can be, it sometimes comes with challenges and frustrations. Connectivity issues were to be expected due to the increased number of people working from home as well as the school systems utilizing online learning.  There have also been challenges with some older employees getting accustomed to and comfortable with virtual meetings.  This was something that some participants had to overcome, but Jane McJunkin (Village of Lockbourne) said most enjoy it once they got used to it.

One topic that much of the group agreed on was that construction has not slowed down, especially regarding certain market sectors such as roads, education, etc. In some cases, it has given participants more opportunities, and additional projects were even coming in under budget.

With companies furloughing employees, participants have experienced some inspection delays. There have also been other delays and cancellations on specific projects in the hospitality sector.

The pandemic has brought up many questions for community assets. Particularly playgrounds, state parks/trails, restaurants, and office buildings. What will these look like moving forward?

  • Playgrounds: It’s been a struggle keeping children off playgrounds. Sanitation initiatives are being prioritized for the health and safety of the community.

  • State parks/trails: With everyone stuck inside, state parks and trails have been a way for people to get outside and get fresh air. Steve Studenmund (Columbus Metroparks) mentioned that it’s important to make social distancing a priority and educate the public on these efforts.

  • Restaurants: The city is working with restaurants to provide additional seating, fencing, and establish a temporary patio extension. Obtaining liquor licenses for temporary patios has been a challenge that city officials are working through. Downtowns and the service industry may suffer as they need people to come to their restaurants to survive.

  • Office Buildings: What will office spaces look like in the future? Will there be empty offices/garages? Are we normalizing working from home?

Joseph Henderson (City of Upper Arlington) said that they’ve opened City Hall and have adjusted to an open office layout. They’ve had to reallocate space for people who need to be in the office. Offering flexible in-office hours and the ability to work from home is being taken into consideration for many companies. Participants have found that in some cases, there has been an increase in productivity when working from home due to little interruptions.

Shown above is a screenshot from our Zoom discussion.

Recovery and reopening seem to be more challenging than shutting everything down was, but this discussion helped everyone brainstorm new ideas. Participants have adapted and made adjustments that they’ve never had to make before. The TRIAD team looks forward to more insightful conversations with this group. Thank you to representatives from Dayton, Delaware, Lockbourne, Marysville, Metro Parks, New Albany, Sunbury, and Upper Arlington for participating!