MARSHALL - No one involved in the decision to move the Ward 1 polling place away from Park Side wanted to do so because they anticipated anything tragic happening at the school when the elections roll around, but in this day age, better safe than sorry, they say.
For the first time since 1992, voters in Ward 1 will not be voting at Park Side. Instead, Southwest Minnesota State University's Recreation/Athletics Facility will be the place to be on Aug. 12 for primaries and Nov. 4 for Election Night.
"We're not saying we don't trust our voters coming in, but anyone could stop in that day, people we don't know," said Marshall High School Business Director Bruce Lamprecht. "We certainly control that as much as possible, but we want to make sure these vulnerable students are safe. This is for the safety of our kids."
The openness inside the school is one issue that raises red flags, but so are the multiple entrance points. Marshall City Clerk Tom Meulebroeck and others say one major negative with Park Side is the number of entrances to the school, and when you have a continuous rush of non-school members going freely in and out of the building, the task of monitoring everyone becomes that much greater.
"We wanted to get away from all these people possibly having interaction with students," Meulebroeck said. "A lot of what kind of scared us is what we hear going on around the country with school shootings. We did not want to expose people to that. The thing is, the way people were entering at Park Side, they were coming from all directions and there was a lot of intermingling between people coming to vote and the students. We wanted to get away from that."
Park Side has been K-2 since 2006. Originally a neighborhood school, it has offered multiple configurations during the last couple of decades.
Darci Love, Park Side principal, said the move from Park Side stems from the difficulty officials had monitoring everything that's going on inside the building during a very hectic day.
"When I first came to the district we had a conversation about polling places and the desire of our crisis team to consider moving that polling place specifically," said Love. "We're talking about safety. Anyone who comes here goes through the office and has to wear a visitor's badge. We want all our students and teachers to know that anyone in our building has to have a district badge or a visitor's badge, and on voting day it's really difficult to see who is who."
Meulebroeck said the wheels to make the change started in motion after the last election when safety and parking issues were being talked about. A representative of the school board had suggested the R/A Facility at SMSU, "and it seemed like that would be a good location," Meulebroeck said. "Safety was a big issue and parking was a big issue."
There have been plenty of changes over the years when it comes to polling places in Marshall. Prior to 1992, each ward had three voting locations. The last time the city moved polling places was when Ward 3 went from the Armory to the Marshall Area YMCA. Residents in Ward 2 vote at the Middle School. In that school building, Lamprecht said, the voting area and the places where there is student traffic can be separated. The other polling place in Marshall is at the Fire Hall for Lake Marshall Township residents.
Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said not only does the move from Park Side address safety concerns, it also should improve the parking situation during elections. He said more parking will be available at SMSU, which will reserve the parking lot adjacent to the R/A Facility during the elections. And, he said, "it will be more accommodating to the voting population that is on campus."
Lamprecht said Park Side has parking issues on normal school days and used the word "horrendous" when describing parking on Election Day.
"I would acknowledge there might be some people who, because of their driving skill level may feel a bit concerned about the change," Lamprecht said. "The district encourages the utilization of our spaces as much as we can, but in the light of the make-up of our student population and the way the building is set up, it's really not conducive to continuing having the polling place at Park Side."
Meulebroeck said voters must enter on Mustang Trail and then head to the R/A, as opposed to coming in from the parking lot to the east.
"We'll have signs posted to show where people should be going," he said. "We're doing whatever we need to do to make it a good experience."
Other school buildings in southwest Minnesota that open their doors for the elections are Minneota High School for voters in Nordland and Westerheim townships in Lyon County, Minnesota West in Canby in Yellow Medicine County and Cedar Mountain School in Redwood County.