ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis Aldermanic Committee made an official move on Wednesday to end online meetings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aldermen on the Personnel and Administration Committee said the St. Louis Board of Aldermen was likely the last lawmaking body that was still not meeting in person. The committee was meeting online because the historic board chamber in city hall, which dates to 1898, has no air conditioning, ventilation, or air filtration.
It has been empty for the past three years. The board did hold a few in-person meetings in the chamber this past spring, but stopped because of concerns from the St. Louis Department of Health. In June, the department recommended that the board and its committees continue meeting via Zoom.
“I think it’s incredibly important that we are back in person,” said Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia of the 6th Ward.
“It’s long past time that we are back in person,” said Alderman Bret Narayan of the 24th Ward. “I can’t think of any other entity in general that continues to meet virtually for everything they do.”
The St. Louis City Hall does not have a flat rooftop for a simple HVAC installation. So, the committee gave final approval to spend up to $100,000 for the installation of portable air purifiers with HEPA filtration that can capture respiratory particles that carry viruses. A contractor, Integrated Facility Services, recommended eight units to properly treat the entire chamber.
The committee is also seeking a bid to replace the room’s dirty and worn-out carpet.
“That room is meant to be used,” said newly elected Board of Aldermen President Megan Green. “A lot of great debates have happened in that room over time. So, I think it’s paramount that we get back in there for the sake of our community. I think it lends to a deliberative process much better to be in person…walk across to a colleague and say, ‘Hey I don’t understand this or what did you mean by this.’ And ask a question than it is to try text somebody virtually or call somebody during a meeting. So many of our constituents have been back to work in person for quite a long time. The least we can do is to also be coming back in person.”
Green said the units can also be rolled into the Kennedy Room at city hall for public hearings and committee meetings.
Online meetings are set to end this month, with in-person meetings at city hall resuming with the first board of aldermen meeting of 2023 on Jan. 13.