WINCHESTER — A new location is being eyed for Frederick County's Office of Elections/Voter Registration.

County officials are considering moving the office from the County Administration Building at 107 N. Kent St. in downtown Winchester to the Sunnyside Plaza shopping center, which the county purchased for $2.1 million in 2019. The 10-5-acre property is located in the county, off North Frederick Pike (U.S. 522) near Va. 37. It includes 380 parking spaces and a 70,614-square-foot shopping center, which the county intends to repurpose into government offices. At the time of the purchase, county officials said the additional space was needed because the County Administration Building is at capacity.

Early last year, county officials began looking at various renovation plans for Sunnyside Plaza, but that “was sort of shelved” when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region in March 2020, Deputy County Administrator Jay Tibbs said at Tuesday's Public Works Committee meeting.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, county officials determined the existing Office of Elections could not safely accommodate early voters in the November 2020 election, so a satellite location was set up in Sunnyside Plaza's units 261-263 as an early voting precinct. Tibbs said the satellite location was well-received by the public because it was centrally located and had ample parking. According to Frederick County Voter Registrar Rich Venskoske, 19,534 people voted early in the county, either at the satellite location or in the County Administration Building.

After the election, county staff worked with Venskoske to explore renovating a former hair salon in the Suunyside complex as a new location for the Office of Elections. The existing office is about 1,000 square feet. The former hair salon, which is a freestanding building located adjacent to the main shopping center, is about 2,600 square feet.

Venksoske currently uses his office area and several other spaces within the County Administration Building to store polling place materials and voting equipment.

Tibbs and Frederick County Public Works Director Joe Wilder noted that early voting in Virginia is in place for the foreseeable future, which means increased visitation to the county’s Office of Elections during election periods. They believe the relocation is needed, as the existing office doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate the additional foot traffic.

If the office moves, the county could then repurpose the existing space for other county departments that need more room.

“We think that this potentially is a win-win for the registrar and for the county as a whole,” Tibbs said.

Wilder said renovating the former hair salon would cost an estimated $400,000.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Public Works Committee agreed to forward a recommendation to the county’s Finance Committee to spend $50,000 for the completion of construction drawings and bid package for the renovation project.

If approved, county staff would put the project out to bid. Once bids are received, they would be brought back to the Public Works Committee for review and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

Attending the meeting was Public Works Director Joe Wilder, Deputy County Administrator Jay Tibbs and Public Works Committee members Doug McCarthy, Whit Wagner, Gene Fisher, Gary Longerbeam and Harvey Strawsnyder.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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