Board of Elections Packing Up For Next Week's Move To Norwood
The Hamilton County Board of Elections will shut its doors at 824 Broadway downtown Thursday afternoon forever.
Five days later, on Tuesday – the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – the board will re-open for business in new, more spacious quarters at the Central Parke office complex at 4700 Smith Road in Norwood, on the site of the old General Motors plant.
It will be the first time in history Hamilton County's elections board has been located outside of downtown.
Election officials said they had no choice but to move – the lease on its 824 Broadway office space expired at the end of the year and the owners of a warehouse in Fairfax where the board stores equipment told the board to move out. The lease on the Broadway building was extended through January to allow the board to finish up the 2016 general election and prepare for the move.
Now, all functions of the board of elections will be in a single, one-story building.
Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman, Tim Burke, who chairs the board of elections, said his preference would have been to find a new location downtown, but, he said, that effort failed.
"We looked very hard around downtown and closer to the central city and, frankly, there were just no buildings available that made sense, that worked for what we needed for the board of elections,'' Burke said.
One of the major advantages of the single-floor building in Norwood, Burke said, is that it is entirely compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Located almost in the geographic center of Hamilton County, the new headquarters will be more convenient for the public county wide, elections director Sherry Poland said.
"It is centrally located to the county and the city of Norwood,'' Poland said. "The facility sits just off the Norwood Lateral and is one mile from I-71 north."
There are 60 free public parking places directly outside the front doors of the new board offices and there is a large parking garage across the street.
In 2014, it appeared that the board of elections might end up in the former Mt. Airy Hospital site, which had been given to the county by Catholic Health Partners. That plan fell through.
Democrats on the board opposed going to Mt. Airy, as did many African-American leaders who said it would be too difficult for voters without cars to get to the board of elections by Metro buses.
But when the county's real estate people came to the board with a proposal to move to the Central Parke office complex, both Republicans and Democrats on the board agreed to the plan.
Poland said the Norwood facility is easily accessible by Metro bus.
"For those who use public transportation, there are three different bus routes that go right by the new facility, including the Metro Plus,'' Poland said. "So those using the Metro service should have access cross-county, going north, south, east and west."
The new location is one that is considerably more expensive than what the county is paying now for its facilities. Under the lease agreement, the county will pay about $10.3 million in rent and operating expensive over the next 10 years. The county has been spending $7.3 million over a 10-year period.
Burke said there would have been an increased cost to the county if the board of elections had tried to work out a new lease with the owners of 824 Broadway.
"While Norwood is more expensive, by the time you figure out all of its advantages as opposed to the old site, I think it more than makes up for that,'' Burke said.
Poland said the new building will make early in-person voting at the board of elections easier for both voters and the staff.
At 824 Broadway, about 12 clerks handle the early in-person voters, who, on the final weekend of the November election, formed lines that ran outside of the building and around the block.
In the new building, Poland said plans are to increase the number of clerks to between 20 and 25.
"Our goal is to have no more lines outside the board of elections during early voting,'' Poland said.
Burke said there is another practical benefit to members of the public who go to the Norwood office.
"One thing that the voting public is going to love is the fact that they don't have to worry about paying parking fees or standing in line and worrying about whether or not they parking meter is going to run out,'' Burke said. "It's not going to be an issue out in Norwood."
Poland said the board's phone number will remain the same in Norwood – (513) 632-7000.