Sit in the audience during a Medford City Council meeting and you might feel as if you are eavesdropping.

Sit in the audience during a Medford City Council meeting and you might feel as if you are eavesdropping.

Council members sit around a table with their backs to spectators.

"It doesn't work well; it doesn't feel well, and many people complain about it," said Councilman Bob Strosser. It's not "user-friendly in terms of public access to the council."

By next year, patrons will be able to sit face to face with their council members.

Council last week approved a $200,000 remodel of the council chambers, one of multiple revisions made to a $3.3 million renovation plan for downtown's City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St.

Other changes to the plan included renovating three floors of City Hall at once instead of going floor by floor, which will cut construction time from 18 months to seven months; and remodeling more of Medford's old library, the Carnegie, to house some city employees while city offices receive their makeover.

Renovating City Hall at one time will take employees and customers out of the pathway of construction, said Brian Sjothun, parks and recreation director.

"Renovating floor by floor would have been a major inconvenience to staff and people visiting City Hall," he said. "This takes them out of harm's way and gets the job done quicker."

Construction by Grants Pass-based Ausland Builders Inc. is expected to begin by November, and City Hall will likely reopen by July 2009, Sjothun said. Council chambers initially were excluded from the remodel project, but it made sense to renovate the chambers while City Hall is empty, city officials said.

The remodeled chambers will have theater-style seating facing a long table for the council panel.

The City Hall renovation includes new heating and air conditioning systems, lighting upgrades and some office remodels. Money for the project will come from the city's general fund. Some funds will be withdrawn from the city's contingency fund to pay for the accelerated time schedule, but that will be reimbursed in the next biennial budget, city officials said.

The construction will displace about 123 employees, not counting police officers, Sjothun said.

The Parks and Recreation Department will move to the Santos Community Center, 701 N. Columbus Ave., which will gain new office space out of a boiler room after construction there by Ashland's Adroit Construction Co.

It's unclear whether Parks and Recreation will remain at the community center after the renovation, though that has been proposed.

About 2,200 square feet on the first floor of the vacant Carnegie building will be renovated to create office space, and a partial upgrade to the heating and air-conditioning system will be completed, at a cost of about $210,000. The council on Aug. 7 is expected to accept a bid by Ausland to do the work.

By housing employees at the Carnegie and at the community center during renovation, the city will reduce the amount of temporary office space it has to lease. Only about 30 employees will occupy leased space. An agreement for leased space has not yet been reached, Sjothun said.

During renovation, televised meetings, such as City Council and Planning Commission meetings, will be held in the auditorium of the Jackson County Courthouse across the street.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.