County looking for building to house elections office
Published: Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 12:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 12:41 p.m.
After years of waiting, the search for a new home for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office has begun.
Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter said the office requested additional space before she took over the position in 2005, and that need has grown as the nature of elections has evolved.
The supervisor's office currently is housed in three locations: the County Administration Building on SE 1st Street in Gainesville, where early voting is held; the nearby Star Garage on SE 1st Avenue; and an operations and training facility off Depot Avenue. Office staff moved into the Star Garage six or seven years ago with the expectation that it was a temporary fix until a permanent, larger facility could be found, Carpenter said.
The plan is to consolidate those locations into one, making the operation more efficient and simplifying things for residents who no longer will have to figure out which office is appropriate for their various needs.
"The dream is to get something like an old grocery store or something where you can go in and have movable walls so that you can continually change the space to fit whatever is happening in the election cycle at the time," she said.
The county is requesting proposals for a new building that will house the supervisor's office and possibly other county departments. The offers can include the construction of a building on an available property or the modification of an existing building, Alachua County Purchasing Manager Larry Sapp said. He isn't sure which offices might use the extra space but said securing additional room for other county sectors is a secondary concern.
"Our main goal is to get the supervisor of elections the space she needs," he said.
Proposals are due by 2 p.m. Jan. 9 to the purchasing department at the County Administration Building, located at 12 SE 1st St., and can be delivered in person or by mail.
The building should be within an approximate 5-mile radius of the county's downtown headquarters and cover about 40,000 square feet, but proposals don't necessarily need to meet those exact requirements, Sapp said.
Carpenter said multiple supervisors around Florida are moving offices this year.
"Each year, we see more of the supervisors being moved into more appropriate spaces as the election laws change and the demands of the office change," she said.
The move is especially important as supervisors across the state prepare for January 2016, when a state law requiring all residents to vote a paper ballot goes into effect, Carpenter said. A new type of voting equipment for the visually impaired then must be used. It will provide touchscreen or keypad options and allow people to listen to the ballot or magnify it, but it will also print out a physical copy once they've voted — an added feature the current equipment doesn't offer.
The new equipment takes up twice as much space, and the supervisor's office doesn't have the space to store the new machines in its training center, Carpenter said.
Another concern is the record number of mail-in ballots her office received for the recent presidential election, which strained its storage capacity, she said.
The new location must meet some basic requirements. It needs to be accessible to the public and preferably located along a public transportation route. It also needs plenty of parking spaces since training sessions for poll workers can bring in 100 people at once, she said. Additionally, a loading dock is necessary to move equipment to the polls.
"Parking is a real issue downtown," said Carpenter, whose office reserves parking spots for early voters before elections but still faces limitations.
Morgan Watkins is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.