Northland community leaders pronounced themselves pleased last week at the announcement that the Franklin County Board of Elections likely will relocate to a former Kohl's store at 1700 Morse Road.
The store, which was closed in February 2011, served as the county's early voting center for the 2012 general election. Now, it's poised to be all things election, with the likely consolidation of two locations and operations into one.
The deal should be done shortly, according to Dana Walch, deputy director of the board of elections.
His comments came after the Franklin County commissioners voted to allow Administrator Don Brown to sign a lease for the building. He was authorized to negotiate one of two approaches, either leasing the building for three years and then purchasing it for $6 million or entering into a 20-year lease with options to buy after five, seven, 10, 15 or 20 years at the same $6 million price tag.
"We feel that will happen without any problem," Walch said.
Dave Paul, former Northland Community Council president and current chairman of the development committee, hailed the announcement, which was called "good news" when NCC Vice President Gerry O'Neill brought it up at the last monthly meeting.
"I think it's wonderful," Paul said. "It's a thing we've been advocating for, talking with the commissioners about. We were hearing they liked the site, obviously, because of its central location ... to the area basically served by the board of elections.
"It really seemed like a good fit to us, and we're glad that the commissioners also felt that way."
"They were very welcoming neighbors, and we look forward to maybe becoming a part of that area in the future," Walch said.
At the NCC's September session, Paul pointed out that, ironically, early voting this year is taking place at the elections board's main headquarters, in Memorial Hall, 280 E. Broad St.
"This process of trying to find a new location for the board has been going on for a number of years, for quite a while," Walch said.
One impetus is that board currently operates two facilities, the main office in Memorial Hall and a warehouse on Alum Creek Drive where voting machines and tabulation equipment are stored.
"For quite a while, the board has sought out a location where we could house both operations together," Walch said. "The Morse Road location allows us to do just that. Operationally, it will help us a tremendous amount just having our staff together under one roof.
"Certainly, the success we had there with the early voting center in 2012 led us to believe it was a good location for us."
The timing of the relocation is delicate, according to Walch. In order not to disrupt the primary election next May, but to be up and running well in advance of November's general elections, the move is scheduled to take place in June 2014, Walch said.
Prior to that, the building will be renovated, which will dramatically change its appearance from an abandoned Kohl's, he added.
"Try not to think of it as the former Kohl's store and that configuration of it," Walch said. "There will be some redesign of it and things of that sort that will make it look quite different from what it does.
"I think it will be a very welcoming accessible, place for the voters of Franklin County. We feel it's a very good fit for us, and more importantly, for the voters."
Walch pointed out that the actual population center of Franklin County is not downtown, but in the area between the Ohio State University campus and the state fairgrounds.
Although the number of people who work for the board of elections is "fluid," according to spokesman Ben J. Piscitelli, it's generally around 50. That's not counting the 200 to 300 part-time employees brought in at election time to assist with petitions, absentee voting and voter registration, he said.