By Debbie Adams
When the Roanoke County Administration Offices closed on March 18 due to COVID-19, the Office of Elections moved from the third floor of the administrative offices on Bernard Drive near Tanglewood Mall to the Craig Avenue Recreation Center in Vinton on what was considered to be a temporary basis.
However, the move has become permanent, with improvements scheduled to be made to the facility with CARES Act funding. The Craig Center is located at 900 Chestnut Street in a quiet neighborhood next to the Glade Town Loop Trail.
The much more spacious offices are at street level with plenty of parking available in the lot next to the building and on the street—a convenience for those who want to vote early in person or to deliver their mail-in ballots to the registrar.
Jason Peters, the Vinton Magisterial District’s representative on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, says the county chose to use the Craig Center as the new Office of Elections “because it is a building that we currently owned and had enough space to meet the needs of the registrar. The facility at the administration building had less than 2,500 square feet and the Craig Center will give them nearly 7,000 square feet–not to mention it will allow all Roanoke County citizens the experience of God’s country here in Vinton.”
The Craig Center was built in 1959 and opened in 1960 as the Craig Avenue Elementary School. It served Black students in grades 1-7 until 1966 when Roanoke County schools were integrated. In 1966 the Craig Avenue School became a Special Education center and continued those services through 1972. The facility was also utilized for a time as a pre-vocational center.
In the late ’70s the building was taken over by the Town of Vinton Recreation Department and then in the mid-80s by the Roanoke County Department of Parks and Recreation. Many in Roanoke County have attended craft classes at the center along with special events such as community Christmas parties, Easter Egg hunts, and Arbor Day celebrations. It also housed after school programs and administrative offices.
Roanoke County General Services Director Rob Light says improvements to the Craig Center will get underway soon.
“The changes require architectural and engineering plans,” Light said. “We are nearing the end of this process. Due to the timing with the election, much of the construction will be iterative over the next few months to focus on the immediate needs while working to limit impacts to the registrar’s ability to serve the expected increased volume of citizens starting in mid-September.”
Current general plans for improvements include:
- Adding a service counter/windows once entering the building to serve citizens.
- Adding shelving/cubbies and electrical for all of the equipment for storage and election preparation.
- Some flooring/wall finish replacement.
- Limited improvements to the entrances/exits to ensure accessibility and improve traffic flow and citizen spacing in the building during absentee voting.
Capital Projects Specialist Ron Riquelmy says plans have been submitted for the building permit. “We are hoping to expedite the approval process and get started as quickly as possible.”
Roanoke County initially received $8.2 million from the CARES Act and made plans to spend 30 percent of that amount on facility updates throughout the county to improve social distancing and to meet public health needs.
At its meeting on August 11, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors discussed the relocation of the Principal Office of the General Registrar to the Craig Center.
The first reading of the ordinance stated, “Section 24.2-411 of the Code of Virginia provides that each local governing body shall furnish the general registrar with a clearly marked and suitable office which shall be the principal office for voter registration. Historically, when the office of the Registrar has been relocated, the Board has authorized such relocation by ordinance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the County’s Director of Emergency Services determined that it was necessary, for safety purposes, to temporarily relocate the office of the General Registrar from the County administration offices, located at 5204 Bernard Drive, to the Craig Center, located at 900 Chestnut Street. It has become apparent that the Craig Center is better able to meet the needs of the General Registrar, and that as part of the County’s continuing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be prudent to permanently relocate the Registrar to this location.”
CARES Act funding in the amount of $219,000 has been appropriated to renovate the Craig Center to accommodate voting changes for no excuse absentee voting and compliance with the Department of Labor and Industry standards.