Next month, when a Montgomery County Council member takes a seat in the new council chamber being built in Rockville, the legislator will do so in the comfort of a high-backed, adjustable "posture chair" that cost the county $604.39.
Later, after a grueling day of hearings, conferences and debate, that council member--if he or she wishes--will be able to wash away some of the day's cares in the council's new unisex shower, which officials said cost several hundred dollars to install.
By the end of next month, the "posture chairs" and shower--along with $6,305 in new filing cabinets, 23 bookends worth $578.68 and six planters valued at slightly less than $400--will be installed on the top two floors of the County Office Building as part of an ambitious renovation of that aging structure on Maryland Avenue.
The renovation of the sixth and seventh floors--which were occupied by the county executive and other administrators before a new county building was constructed--is not yet completed, but complaints about its cost have already begun.
"We weren't sufficiently cost-conscious and spent more money than we needed to on a lot of the furnishings," said council member Neal Potter. "The furnishings are just too much."
Furnishing the council members' offices, staff work stations and reception area on the sixth floor and the new 50-seat council chamber and dais on the seventh floor will cost about $250,000, said Thomas Abrahams, who heads the county's facilities and services department.
Other renovations--a new heating and air-conditioning system for the 30-year-old building, as well as roof repairs, new plumbing and rust-colored carpeting for the offices--will cost an additional $700,000, officials said.
Neither Potter, his council colleagues nor staff members who have spent the past decade in a cramped warren of offices on separate floors of the building have complained about the need for better quarters. As Lucille Harrigan, the council's legislative information coordinator, put it, "The consolidation of everyone on the sixth floor is better for staff efficiency. We won't be squirrelled away in cubbyholes anymore."
What troubles Potter are some of the "extras" in the new suite of offices, he said. "I have my doubts about the need for special sideways file cabinets and new desks" for council members, he said. "My old desk was perfectly usable."
Potter also complained about the cost of, and need for, new partitions on the sixth floor. Fifty-two of those "acoustical tackboards" cost the county $3,777.20, according to documents on file with the county purchasing department.
As for the single shower stall tucked into a small bathroom on the sixth floor, Potter said: "I doubt I'd use it much. It could be refreshing, though."
Council President Pro Tempore Michael L. Gudis, who like Potter has endured his fair share of interminable night meetings, defended the shower. "I, for one, believe it's necessary. Some of our meetings go into the early morning . . . and a shower wakes me up. I like to freshen up."
No council or staff member objected to the shower when it was discussed last year, Gudis said.
He also said he thought the$6,648.23 spent on 11 "posture chairs" for council members, their staff director, the county attorney and two secretaries was also money well spent. "In this day and age, good furniture is expensive. Six-hundred dollars for a chair may sound high to the general public and I'm not saying I'm happy about it.
"But when you spend 10-12 hours at a time in one chair, that price is not extreme," Gudis added. "I don't think any of us view that as opulence."
Completion of the council's new office center is expected later this week, but it will be at least a month before the seventh floor is finished, officials said.