Acoustics problems have forced the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to retreat from its high-ceilinged board room in the country's new $1.6 million administration building to its old meeting room in a high school annex.
"It sounds like you're standin' in an empty silo 'n hollering', " said William C. Crossman Jr., board chairman.
According to Supervisor George H. Yeager, the acoustics "were the worst right over th media table, which is a shame because that's where we need to be understood the best.
"Politicians are always saying their words come out garbled in the press and I can understand why, in this case," Yeager said.
The Loudoun supervisors are spending $8,600 for acoustical improvements consisting of one-inch oak slats backed by sound-proof material and mounted on the curved wall behind the supervisors' table. Two loud speakers also will be lowered.
In addition, the U.S., Virginia and county flags will be draped from the ceiling behind the supervisors for "additional dampening" of sound, according to Yeager.
The supervisors rejected a proposal, that would have cost $1,400, to spray a sound-absorbing foam on the walls. "It looked like cork and it rubbed off easily," Crossman said. "It was the cheap way of doing it," he added.
Yeager, who said he prefers the old board room because the supervisors can feel "closer to the people, not isolated," was one of three supervisors who voted against the wooden slat solution. He thought a less-expensive alternative that would also be an "esthetic improvement to the room" might have been found.
Besides having "lots of echoes," the new board room "causes visual confusion" Yeager said because it is a "dimensionless all-white zone in which the Board members appear as high-contrast spots." Even the board table is white.
The administration building in the historic town square of Leesburg, where the Greek Revival county courthouse dates from 1758, has been a source of controversy in the rural community because of its contemporary design.
"It's like movin' into a new house," Crossman said. "It's just not been made homey-like yet, that's my only problem with it," he said.