By MARINA WATERS
Washington County is preparing to tackle local election needs.
The County-Owned Property Committee and the Washington County Election Commission met Friday, April 16, to discuss entering into a lease agreement for the former Ace Hardware building after it was utilized as a voting site in 2020.
“We want to thank the (county) commission for the Ace Hardware building,” said Gary McAllister, the newly elected election commission chairman. “If we hadn’t had that last year with COVID-19 and everything, it would have been extremely difficult to social distance and getting the voting we did.”
The election commission also offered the committee new voting-site options.
Dana Jones, the newly named Washington County administrator of elections, presented the options, including The Heritage, located at 161 Molly Grayce Lane behind Food City in Jonesborough.
The Heritage building would cost $48,850 and would be used for 82 days, which includes early voting and election day use. The election commission would use 4,000 square feet of the 6,000-square-foot building which includes 59 parking spaces. The election commission would also have the opportunity to use its own locks and would have exclusive access to the building.
John Abe Teague, a newly appointed member of the election commission, said he felt The Heritage would be a sufficient space for voting until the county could also consider other future options such as building election commission office space.
“For now, (The Heritage would) take some pressure off,” Teague said. “We could take a big deep breath and know we have something out there for the next two voting cycles.”
The only possible hold back would be The Heritage’s proximity to the Jonesborough Visitor Center, which is another voting site used for local elections.
“The precincts have to be a certain amount of distance between precincts so people who are voting don’t get confused.” said Margaret Davis, a returning member of the election commission. “We have had this (situation) before when we had to use another voting location. We had to get approval from Nashville. That may be the only thing.”
Jones also said the election commission is also considering the 3,000-square-foot McKinney Center gym.
Voting space wasn’t the only election commission need mentioned. The committee also discussed the need for election commission office space, equipment space and training space.
“One of our priorities with this commission here is a new office space (in place of) our office upstairs,” McAllister said. “We are packed in there. We encourage and would love for you all to come up there and see it.”
That means the former Ace Hardware building located on 11-E is still an option when it comes to voting and office space for the election commission.
In 2020, the county entered a lease agreement with David Sell, the owner of the former hardware building, for $77,500 a year. Mayor Joe Grandy told the committee Sell said he would accept a three-year lease at the current rate with a five percent increase after two years.
According to Jones, the building would require renovations.
Jones said the building would need multi-stall bathroom renovations, security additions, removal of two carports and running water to an office-space kitchenette, which is all estimated to cost $300,000.
“It’s built on a concrete slab,” Jones said. “If we go in there to put office space in there, we’re going to have to bust through that slab to put two new bathrooms with multi stalls. We are going to have to bust through the slab to make sure there is water for the office running to the kitchenette and it doesn’t meet the state security storage requirements for our voter machines.
“I don’t think we can do this for $300,000, guys. I’m being honest with you there.”
Grandy said he felt the committee should take time to consider the Ace Hardware option in addition to The Heritage.
“I would say we take a half-step back to consider some of the comments in respect to office space, storage and other considerations,” Grandy said. “Traffic flow, I think, is really important (at the voting sites). I would be interested to know what that would look like at Ace Hardware. There were concerns after the election about Ace Hardware parking, the flow of traffic. I think it’s worthwhile to check on both (the Ace building and The Heritage).”
Davis said she felt it would be ideal to conduct training and voting, as well as house office space all in one location.
“The optimum is to have a building that can accommodate all three,” Davis said. “Unless that building falls out of the sky somewhere, that’s going to take some work.”
The County-Owned Property Commission will meet again on Thursday, May 6, at 4 p.m. at the county courthouse to further discuss the possible Ace Hardware lease while the election commission is set to meet on May 3. For more info on county meetings, go to www.washingtoncountytn.org.