Douglas Co. election operations to move to new location

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 4:27 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - Douglas County elections will find a new home over the summer.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew says the office’s election and other operations will relocate during the summer from the first floor of the Douglas Co. Courthouse in downtown Lawrence to a leased space in The Malls Shopping Center on the southwest corner of 23rd and Louisiana St.

According to Shew, the new location is the former site of Epic Fun, at 711 W 23rd. St., Suite 1, which is next to the Rent-A-Center. The 8,510 square foot location will give the office more space, parking and accessibility.

Shew said the relocation is part of the County’s plan to address space needs. He said a 2017-2019 study conducted by Gould Evans found election operation as the largest user of space in the Courthouse and concerns about overcrowding during elections. He said the recommendation was to find another space.

“The Douglas County Courthouse is an iconic structure but it cannot support the functions of a large county, especially during large elections,” Shew said. “The new space will not only reduce stress on the Courthouse, it will improve the experience of citizens as they interact with our office.”

According to Shew, the new building is being renovated and will have a 1,417 square-foot voting lobby designed to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines with a zero-step entry, wheelchair-accessible counter and improved lighting. He said the area is over twice the size of the lobby area on the first floor of the Courthouse.

Shew said election results will be announced in a large community meeting room where candidates, staff and media will be able to gather and watch monitors. The room will be available to community organizations or county operations for meetings as well as events. Additionally, he said the building will be used for training and educational purposes.

According to Shew, the building has a loading dock, as well as a warehouse area, which is secured through controlled access and alarms. He said it will also have equipment tracking systems that will alert them when something is moved inside and outside the building. She said the Clerk’s Office will be one of the first election offices in the country to put the equipment detection and tracking systems in the warehouse to use.

Shew said the new building will allow staff to work from one location. He said the elections office has five employees, including herself, and work with about 300 poll workers during elections. During the last election, he said staff worked in a temporary S Iowa St. location, in the Courthouse and at the Douglas Co. Fairgrounds, where equipment is stored and tested.

In addition to elections operations, Shew said Homestead Tax Refund filing, Cereal/Malt Beverage Licenses and Fish/Game Licenses will move to the new location. He said the real estate, accounts payable and payroll division will stay at the Courthouse.

According to Shew, the Clerk’s Office will utilize exiting capital reserves and grant funding to support the pre-payment of the lease for two years, construction costs and installation of security features. He said the renovation work is estimated to cost around $495,000 and will be completed by The Wilson Group. The total project costs, including furnishing, will be about $637,000. Starting in 2023, he said the lease for the space, around $100,000 each year, will need to be included in the Clerk and Elections budget.

Shew said he will mail information to voters regarding the new location and signage will be posted at the Courthouse. He said the space which is currently being used by elections will be repurposed and used by services currently offered within the Courthouse.

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