MARTINS FERRY - The Belmont County Board of Elections is on the hunt for a potential new polling location in Martins Ferry.
The uncertainty surrounding the availability of South School, the current polling location now owned by a private entity, has forced the search.
Bill Shubat, the director of the election board, noted that South School may still be available and that option is still being explored.
THE?USAGE?of South School as a polling place in Martins?Ferry is in doubt, necessitating the hunt for a possible new building.
But Shubat and the board want to ensure that a proper facility is available come election time.
Shubat had previously met with Martins Ferry City School Superintendent Dirk Fitch about possibly using a facility up at the school's complex as the new location.
While those talks were beneficial, nothing concrete came from them as the Fitch and the district naturally have some concerns, especially in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
"One of our questions was about the security of the facility because the students would still be in session," Fitch said. "Our resource officer would probably have to be there all day and we'd have to figure out how to block off the voting area from the rest of the school and students.
"We mentioned to Mr. Shubat about the possibility of using the recreation center. One of our (school) board members is on the recreation board."
There's a few issues with the rec center that has Shubat and the election board wanting to go elsewhere.
First is an issue of parking. All five precincts voting in Martins Ferry have been housed under one roof recently at South School. Doing so at the recreation center would likely create a parking fiasco as spots are limited.
Shubat also explained that the board didn't want to force voters to utilize the elevator or stairs to make it to the second floor gymnasium in order to vote.
Shubat is looking to get on the agenda for the Feb. 11 school board meeting in order to try to come to an agreement.
He's proposing that possibly the district hold an in-service day on the day of the election. That way, there won't be any students in the building and security won't be an issue.
That's what the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District is doing in order to allow the election board to use their facilities.
During the election board's recent meeting, the worst-case scenario idea of having Martins Ferry residents vote in Colerain was tossed out. That is far from set in stone and was more of an idea in case nothing else comes to fruition.
Shubat stated that in the past, the firehouses in town were used as polling locations but with regulations coming from Americans with Disabilities Act, that is no longer an option.
"I have searched high and low, all over Martins Ferry and I even have the Mayor (Paul Riethmiller) looking for me," Shubat said. "South School was ideal. The board really liked it, having all the precincts under one roof but we're not sure if that will be an option."
Ideally, the election board would like to keep all precincts voting in the same location. It's easier for the voters in knowing where their polling spot is, as well as making tabulation faster and easier.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org