By Bob Uphues
Anyone who regularly attends meetings held in the council chamber of the Brookfield Village Hall knows there are two great truths:
Very few people show up and, even if they did, no one can hear what the heck is being said anyway.
But all that changed April 23 when the Brookfield Village Board flipped the switch on a new sound system, complete with new microphones, mixer, wiring, speakers and even a sensor that raises and lowers the speaker volume when the room's very loud air handler kicks on and off.
In March, then Village Manager Keith Sbiral signed off on sound system upgrades first proposed back in 2015 by Allen Goodcase, a Brookfield resident and owner of the electronics firm Future Systems.
Goodcase, one of the more regular visitors to village board meetings, knew the troubles with the sound system all too well.
"This is almost a personal thing with me, because this is my town," said Goodcase, whose company in recent years has also installed new sound systems in the Riverside-Brookfield High School gymnasium and RBHS auditorium.
"To have to sit there and hear it all wrong was excruciating," Goodcase said. "I've been wanting to do this for a long, long time and I'm really glad it's come to fruition."
The problem isn't always apparent to anyone sitting at the dais at the front of the room. Trustees and commission members seated in a semicircle can hear each other and often remark that if visitors talk, those voices can be a distraction.
"The slightest whisper echoes so much that it's loud, actually," said Village President Kit Ketchmark.
Over the course of the past month, Goodcase personally installed all of the equipment for the project, which cost the village about $12,000 to complete.
Goodcase removed 10 mismatched and obsolete speakers dating from as far back as 1991 from the ceiling and replaced them with 20 new speakers that were embedded into new ceiling tiles. He rewired the system entirely, and installed new thin, goose-neck microphones at the board dais and at the podium where members of the public provide comment.
The microphones are tall enough to allow board members to open laptop computers in front of them and there's a red light next to the on-off switch at the base of each microphone to let trustees know whether their microphones are live or not.
There's also a wireless microphone available for anyone needing to make a presentation at a meeting or for use during special events where a traditional meeting setup isn't used.
A dedicated WiFi network allows for the sound system to be adjusted using an iPad. In addition, there is now an ADA-compliant assisted listening system including special headphones for anyone particularly hard of hearing.
The new sound system also will improve the quality of audio recordings made at village board and other meetings. The present system overloads sound and microphones catch a lot of background noise, making those recordings a difficult listen.
"We don't know how many people came to a meeting and weren't able to hear and then never came back," Goodcase said. "Now people may be more apt to participate. It's a lot better when more people come to board meetings."
Goodcase said he is presently researching options for reclaiming use of four flat-panel video screens installed in the board room about a decade ago. At one time, village staff used the screen for video and PowerPoint presentations, but in recent years devices being used by staff haven't been compatible.
"That room just does not offer a lot of economical options [in terms of installing video screens]," Goodcase said. "But I think I can do it economically so they can get some life out of [the video panels].
"I'm going to give them a ballpark figure and they can tell me if they want to proceed."
Ketchmark said he was glad the sound system upgrade had finally come to fruition.
"Some things take way too long," he said.