AUGUSTA — The state is moving computer equipment into some or all of a conference room being used by the Maine Human Rights Commission, which just had its conference room rental budget slashed.

The Maine Human Rights Commission began to hold public hearings on the first floor of its new home at 19 Union St. about 13 months ago.

Previously, the commission, which had been located in the Steven’s School complex in Hallowell, rented conference rooms at the Senator Inn for its public hearing sessions.

Now, it appears that the state is taking away the spacious conference setting that’s usually packed on hearing days with complainants, attorneys, and commission staff and inserting computer equipment.

In the latest budget go-round, $723 was trimmed from the human rights commission’s budget, with the explanation that it “reduces funding for rental of conference room space.”

“We are relocating the Office of Information Technology’s primary data center,” said David Emery, deputy commission of the Department of Administrative & Financial Services. “It’s not determined yet whether all or only a portion of that first floor conference room will be used. I think the assumption at this point is that part of it will be used and part of it will not be used for this project.”

Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, said the commission occasionally gets large crowds when it handles issues of public interest. The commission office has 12 employees.

“We have heard that OIT might be coming into the building and are hopeful that doesn’t impact our ability to hold our commission meetings here,” Sneirson said. “It’s extremely convenient for our investigators to be in the office doing work and coming down to commission meetings as needed. It’s very important for the commissioners to have the investigator who handled the case available to speak to the facts of any given case.”

The commissioners’ next public meeting and hearings are set for Monday, March 5.

Emery said the information technology office must move from its current Edison Drive location because the owner does not want to renew the lease.

The 19 Union St. site, a building that fronts Capitol Park and once housed the Maine Department of Labor, houses employees of the State Planning Office and the state Department of Audit in addition to the human rights commission offices.

In the fall of 2010, they all moved into the building, which was erected in 1960 with an addition constructed in 1970. About $2.5 million in renovation work was completed, including strengthening the roof, installing a new heating and ventilation system and doing interior and environmental improvements.

The Office of Information Technology has budgeted $1.8 million for the cost of installing its facility there, Emery said, adding there will be some additional costs.

Emery said the data center must be sited in close proximity to the fiber optic cable system and must be in a secure location.

“It’s been a very long process trying to find the most convenient and most cost-effective solution for the data center, and we believe we have,” Emery said.

There will be no personnel from the Office of Information Technology permanently stationed there; however, plans call for several desks in an office to be used when technicians work there.

“The data center is essentially manned remotely without personnel on site,” Emery said.

Last week, the Office of Information Technology and the Bureau of General Services published a request for pre-bid qualifications for the 19 Union Street Data Center Renovation, saying, “The work involves conversion of approximately 5,000 square feet of ground and first floor office space to a secure data center … in an occupied building.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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