Elections Office to change locations

Published 4:59 pm Friday, February 3, 2023

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GATESVILLE – There will be a new address for the Gates County Board of Elections.

By a 3-2 vote at their Jan. 18 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners approved a measure to move the Elections Office from its current space inside the Reid’s Grove Rosenwald School in Gatesville to the old Medical Center building located on Medical Center Road near the high school.

After a long discussion, Commissioner Linda Holfer motioned to relocate the Board of Elections to the Medical Center building. Commission Vice Chair Jonathan Craddock offered a second. The motion was approved by a 3-2 vote with Holfer, Craddock, and Board Chair Dr. Althea Riddick supporting the move while Commissioners Emily Truman and Brian Rountree opposed the decision.

Late last year, the commissioners tabled a request by the Gates County Board of Elections that asked for county funds to upgrade safety and security concerns at its current location. At that time, the commissioners wanted Reid Thomas, a Restoration Specialist with the NC State Historic Preservation Office, to perform an on-site visit to the school building in an effort to ensure that any work performed did not threaten the historical integrity of the structure. In August of 2011, Reid’s Grove Rosenwald School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Thomas performed an in-person inspection on Oct. 25, 2022, but his written assessment did not cover any security issues. His focus was centered on the structural and historical integrity of the building. He noted the exterior appears to be good condition with the exception of needed maintenance to the historic woodwork and there are drainage issues that could impact the foundation. He also noted that the handicap accessibility ramp needed to be replaced and that the crawlspace under the building lacks adequate ventilation.

On the interior, Thomas noted that the school is an “excellent candidate for adaptive rehabilitation. The primary rehabilitation needs observed are largely interior cosmetic work and upgrading electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems needs to support the intended use.”

He also said that consideration should be given in the removal of the later installed (non-historic) partition walls, returning the interior to its historic layout.

In the commissioners’ discussion at the Jan. 18 meeting, Craddock said he and Riddick recently performed an on-site visit to the Medical Center building.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the condition of the building,” Craddock stated. “It looked a lot worse on the outside than the inside. I do a lot of facility work…maintenance and facility preservation with my job. [This building] needs a good cleaning and some minimal changes.”

Craddock’s list of work needed at the Medical Center building includes installing new lighting outside, a fresh coat of paint in certain areas, removing all medical equipment, pressure washing the sidewalks, and updating the bathrooms.

Craddock added that he came up with a list of pros and cons of moving the Elections office. His pros were that the Medical Center building offered a more centralized location, the handicapped accessibility was better, it has a larger reception area, and offers ample storage space. His list of cons included the time and effort of relocation, the need for a security system, and that the Medical Center building is not located near any other government buildings, other than the Health Department next door.

“The only other issue I saw, and it’s really not a big issue, is that the Elections Office will have to share the space with GEMS [food bank], but that can be done by installing a couple of petitions,” he added.

Holfer noted that GEMS and the Board of Elections had shared space previously prior to the food pantry relocating to the Medical Center facility.

“It will certainly give them [Board of Elections] more room and more storage room,” Holfer said of the proposed move to the Medical Center building.

Holfer also noted that with 2023 being an “off year for elections” that would allow the time needed to make any modifications to the building to accommodate the Board of Elections.

“If we’re going to make a change, let’s go ahead and start the process,” she suggested.

Truman agreed that the Medical Center facility is a more centralized location, but had concerns about moving the Board of Elections to an area that is far removed from other county buildings.

“There are a lot of times that the Elections Director is the only person on staff in their building,” Truman said. “If she has to step away, it only increases the amount of time she’s away from the office. That increases the wait time of those needing to visit that office and she’s out conducting county business. I don’t understand why we need to move an office that is requesting more security and better lighting to somewhere that is far removed from other county offices, with the exception of the Health Department.”

Truman also expressed concern over the fact that when there is an election, staff works into the night, and if the move is made to the Medical Center building, the isolation of that area would be a concern.

“We need the input of the Board of Elections and the Elections Director as they will be the ones put into this situation,” Truman stressed, adding there were threats made to other Board of Elections offices in North Carolina during the General Election this past November. “I’m not comfortable with the Elections Director and her staff being there after hours in a more desolate area.”

Rountree said his concerns were with maintaining a consistent location for the Board of Elections office.

“They’ve been moved several times,” he said. “I believe consistency is very important, especially with the building they are currently in seems to be functioning. Also, we need to consider the costs vs. moving.”

Riddick said the previous discussion about relocating the Board of Elections centered on the safety and security at its current location, which was detailed in a report. She said any changes to the current location would, “take away the [historical] integrity of the Rosenwald School.”

“At the Medical Center complex, there are plans to install a security system and better lighting,” Riddick noted. “The rooms can be renovated at a less cost. It is on a well-traveled road. They will have more space than they have now. It will be made safe and secure.”

She added that there are plans to transform the Rosenwald School into a Visitors Center.

“That building can play right into the African American Trail that we’re working on,” Riddick stated. “We can show off that building to visitors. It will be a boost to eco-tourism.”

Riddick said modifications to the Medical Center building to accommodate the Board of Elections will cost less than $13,000.

“We haven’t put a timetable on this. If we vote to move it, we won’t move anybody until we get it right,” Riddick stressed. “There’s plenty of room for GEMS and the Board of Elections.”

In September of last year, Clytia Riddick, Director of the county’s Board of Elections, submitted a budget amendment in the amount of $13,968.36 for lighting and security system improvements at the Rosenwald School. At that time she said the improvements were “per US Homeland Security and the NC State Board of Elections.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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