FALMOUTH — The School Board has formally asked the town to find an alternate polling place to Falmouth High School.
The board voted unanimously Monday night to approve a written request to Town Manager Nathan Poore. The School Board’s Facilities Committee met last week to discuss this issue. At that meeting on Oct. 12, Superintendent Geoff Bruno said the major concern during voting is safety, especially when students are in school during general elections.
“It presents a lot of safety concerns,” Bruno said.
The gym at the high school on Woodville Road has been used as the town’s only polling place for more than 10 years, although Town Hall does serve as a polling place for early and absentee voting.
In anticipation of high voter turnout this year, classes at all Falmouth schools have been cancelled on Election Day, Nov. 8 – a decision shared by several other districts that use schools as polling places. This is the first time Falmouth has cancelled classes on Election Day.
The Falmouth School Department’s letter to Poore, dated Oct. 17, states that in recent years, school safety and security protocols have become much tighter. The letter is signed by Bruno and School Board Chairwoman Lucy Tucker.
“(T)he standards have changed, and updated procedures require a much more comprehensive approach to building security, particularly during the school day,” the letter reads.
At the Oct. 12 meeting, the board’s Facilities Committee floated the idea of using the Mason-Motz Activity Center at 190 Middle Road as a polling place.
On Tuesday, Poore said he spoke with Bruno, but had not yet received the department’s letter. Poore said the town had considered Mason-Motz for polling in the past, but determined parking was inadequate and the interior wouldn’t support the necessary infrastructure.
But he said after the election, he, Bruno, the town clerk and the police chief will count the parking spaces and take interior measurements to see if the building will work.
Poore said having elections at Mason-Motz would be easier for the town because all the election equipment could be stored there; now it is transported to and from the school.
“We’ll study all of that to see if it’s an option,” Poore said.
Poore said there is “absolutely not” another venue in town that would be feasible as a polling place. He said a polling place must accommodate 75 booths, lines of voters, Election Day staff, and others, including exit poll staffers – all in the same area.
“You add all that up, it’s a lot of people,” Poore said. “There just aren’t very many locations in town where we could accommodate that. But we’re going to really roll up our sleeves and look at Mason-Motz to see if it’s an option.”
The School Department letter states that all school buildings are expected to be secure, with access limited to the front entrance. Visitors have to be buzzed in and go directly to the main office; all other exterior doors are locked during the day.
Opening the gym up as a polling station throws a wrench in the security precautions and increases the risk that someone will wind up in a section apart from the polling place.
The letter also states that since a large number of voters come in the morning and/or early evening, Election Day can create parking challenges, create additional traffic, disrupt parents who are dropping off and picking up their children, and disrupt extra-curricular activities and sports.
Poore said the alternative is adding additional security measures.
Lucky D’Ascanio, director of parks and community programs, said she is not sure if there’s enough space, or if parking and traffic flow would be adequate, at Mason-Motz.
“I am not sure what the needs are … so we would need to touch base with town clerk and staff to ensure that it is adequate space,” D’Ascanio said. “We have not met as staff yet to talk about this, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to discuss that with them.”
The Falmouth High School gym has served as the town’s polling place for more than 10 years. The School Board and School Department have asked the town to find an alternative.