Morse Road site to be new home for elections board
Barring unforeseen problems with negotiations, next month's general election will be the last overseen from Memorial Hall in downtown Columbus.
The probable relocation of the Franklin County Board of Elections to the former Kohl's department store at 1700 Morse Road, a long-anticipated action, took some formal shape last week.
The store, which Kohl's officials closed abruptly 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.
It's not a done deal, but an agreement should be reached shortly, said Dana Walch, deputy director of the board of elections.
His comments came after 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 it after five, seven, 10, 15 or 20 years at the same $6 million price tag, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
"We feel that will happen without any problem," Walch said.
The timing of relocating an ongoing operation such as the board of elections is delicate, the deputy director said.
In order not to disrupt the primary next May, but to assure it's up and running well in advance of November 2014's general election, the move is scheduled to take place in June 2014, Walch said.
Prior to that, the building will undergo renovations that will dramatically change its appearance from a former 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 the actual population center of Franklin County is not downtown, but rather 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," said spokesman Ben J. Piscitelli, it's generally about 50.
That's not counting the 200 to 300 part-time employees brought on board at election time to assist with petitions, absentee voting and voter registration, he said.
"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 for the move is that the board currently operates two facilities: the main office in Memorial Hall, and a warehouse on Alum Creek Drive where voting machines and tabulation equipment is 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."