NORTHBOROUGH – Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough leaders are asking the Select Board to reconsider using Melican Middle School as a location for elections.
The topic was discussed at the Nov. 6 Select Board meeting.
In a letter to the Select Board on Oct. 5, Superintendent Greg Martineau said using a school as a voting site poses challenges that need to be addressed. A school needs to be closed for the day to ensure students’ and voters’ safety.
“While I understand that this may be necessary to avoid any disruptions during elections, it can create inconvenience for the school community, including students, parents and staff members,” Martineau wrote.
He said that school closures on election days can disrupt the continuity of instruction, impact the students’ educational progress and create challenges for parents that need to make childcare arrangements. Select Board Chair Mitch Cohen said during the meeting that it was “really, really chaotic” when Melican was in session and especially during pick-up time while voting is taking place.
Martineau thanked the Select Board for ensuring that the community had accessible and convenient polling locations.
“I understand the importance of providing residents with a place to cast their votes, and I deeply appreciate your commitment to democracy,” he said.
According to Town Clerk Andy Dowd, for years, the polling locations were in the elementary schools. A consolidated site was agreed to at Melican in 2019.
“That location has been very successful for us. It’s been embraced by the voters, and it works well. I think it really eliminates that vast majority of the safety and security concerns that have been brought forth,” said Dowd.
Interim Town Administrator Mike Gallagher said he and Dowd spoke after receiving the letter, and Dowd had concerns about the upcoming election cycle in 2024 that will include a town election, presidential primary, state primary and presidential election.
“There’s a lot going on in 2024 that will preclude us from being able to actually do anything this coming year, but it does give us time to look at what the options might be for 2025,” Gallagher said.
In 2025, there will only be the town election, he added.
To make any changes during the 2024 cycle would be “very confusing” for voters, said Dowd.
Gallagher said the town may have an issue finding a space that would be large enough to be a single location for all of the precincts as well as parking and the flow of people coming into the site.
Cohen said he would like to get the stakeholders together, discuss the pros and cons and figure out the least disruptive way to hold elections. Resident Aaron Hutchins noted there is a Town Offices Feasibility Study Committee, and a study could incorporate a new town hall that could accommodate the elections.
In the meantime, if school is in session during the May election, Police Chief Bill Lyver assured Dowd that there will be additional officers at Melican.