MOUNT VERNON — Any differences involving who gets which spaces inside the three-floor Central School as it approaches a $4 million renovation project have been completely worked out, Knox County Commissioners and the Knox County Board of Elections said this week.
In fact, Board of Elections Director Kim Horn said Wednesday that she and her staff are already working with MKC Architects to select color schemes for the walls and flooring for their share of the second floor. The walls will be gray with accent colors of blue and green, she said. And the wood flooring of the old school will be preserved as much as possible, such as in office settings.
“We’re pleased with everything,” Horn offered. “It’s going to be very nice when it’s done.”
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The key to cooperation was ultimately realizing that local leaders want the county Office of Veterans Services, the other tenant, to occupy the main (first) floor, which is the front-facing portion of the building along Chestnut Street, Horn said. The elections board will occupy the lower floor/basement, which faces Sugar Street and has a large parking lot behind it, while both entities will share the second (upper) floor.
The lower/basement level will be where county residents vote absentee and will also serve as storage space for the Elections Board. There is enough room in the lower level to turn it into an extra precinct if needed. An exterior elevator accessed from the parking lot will make it easy for those who need to visit the main offices on the second floor.
The first floor along Chestnut Street will be for Knox County Veterans Services, giving them a centrally-located presence in Mount Vernon that has been lacking, veterans Director Kevin Henthorn recently informed commissioners. In fact, he said he still finds it disappointing when on occasion, local residents express they were unaware the county has a veterans services office. It’s a major reason he intends to soon embark on an advertising campaign concerning their new location.
“I think the veterans office will get considerably more traffic than their current location (on Pittsburgh Avenue), which will increase their business,” County Administrator Jason Booth said while offering the News a tour of the old school. He pointed to Central School’s prime location, with Mount Vernon’s Memorial Building in easy walking distance, as is Public Square. Access to Veterans Services through the main doors along Chestnut will involve the addition of a long, handicapped-accessible ramp. Some loading access into Veterans Services will be in a small area on the east side of the school building, between the school and the main county offices parking lot on Chestnut Street. The area will also provide some parking spaces for veterans.
The second floor will be divided up by having Veterans Services occupy the front side of the floor, facing Chestnut Street, with the Board of Elections occupying the back side facing Sugar Street. Horn said the elections board has given up some space — such as a formerly drawn computer room for elections officials that will instead serve as storage space for Veterans Services.
Across the hall on the second floor, also facing Chestnut Street, will be a conference room that the elections board wanted for its own use but is to be shared by the two entities. It’s located next to an elections office break room and restroom. What the elections board loses in some floor space, it regains somewhat through reconfigured doors and walls demolished to make way for larger offices and storage areas. The shared conference room, in fact, is to be made much larger by demolishing a wall and merging with smaller rooms, Booth pointed out during the tour. Some of the other concerns the Board of Elections had, involving security over door access points and door locks, have been resolved, Horn said.
The lower floor/basement, where some voting and election official training will occur, has a large amount of storage space planned for the elections board. Even the existing boiler room — that will be replaced by a new heating, venting and air conditioning system — will give way to be used as elections board storage space, Booth said.
“Our first priority has to be to the public — keeping in mind safety as well as meeting the community’s needs for both voter access and Veterans Services,” said Commissioner Teresa Bemiller. While the main floor along Chestnut Street will be one prime entrance to the building, voters will find themselves much more easily served by entering the building from a large parking lot behind Central School along Sugar Street, with an elevator close by for easy access, she added.
Booth said due to architectural plan adjustments, and a period required for state approval of MKC Architects plans, the $4 million Central School project is not expected to go out to bid until late March. It had previously been planned to go out to bid this month.
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