Before November polling, McHenry County could have a new election headquarters

Proposed elections center would alleviate space concerns inside county building, officials say

Voting machines are set up on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, inside the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock. Early voting starts on Feb. 23 for the April 4 consolidated election.

McHenry County could get a new elections center where votes would be cast and counted.

Officials said the county building off Route 47 in Woodstock is taken over by elections operations during election season, and officials are hoping to find a new home for elections where people could vote but also where voting equipment could be stored.

The county is looking at leasing space at 410 South Eastwood Drive in Woodstock to house election operations. The lease, if approved, would run for 10 years, but the county could get out of it after seven. Officials said Thursday they would still have to pay to break the lease if they were to end it after seven years.

The space used to be an Aldi and is in the same strip mall as the Illinois Secretary of State’s driver’s license facility.

McHenry County could open a new election center at this former Aldi grocery store in Woodstock. Shown Jan. 15, 2024.

County Clerk Joe Tirio explained in a county board finance committee meeting last week that the building would serve as a polling place and a space for people to watch vote tabulations, and could host trainings.

The county is hoping to start occupying the space July 1, ahead of the Nov. 5 general election, according to county records. If the county board signs off on the agreement, the buildout costs for the space will be about $300,000.

County records indicate that the building owner would pay for $165,000 for any necessary buildout, with the county on the hook for an estimated $85,000 to $120,000 for the remainder of those expenses.

McHenry County would also be responsible for the moving costs, which is estimated to be just under $150,000.

Monthly rent, if the county chooses to go forward, would range from about $23,500 this year to $30,678 in 10 years.

Other expenses the county would have to pay for, including broadband and utilities, would cost $61,000 per year, county documents estimate.

County board members had varied opinions on the proposal, with board member Kelli Wegener (D- Crystal Lake) saying she’d like to see the county purchase a property instead of renting one.

“I am worried about the long-term lease and the expense it’s going to have when, at the end of seven or 10 years, we will have no equity and no capital,” Wegener said.

She wasn’t alone in her concerns about leasing versus buying.

“I fully support having a space where the county clerk can hold elections and store equipment,” board member Michael Skala (R-Huntley), who chairs the county board’s finance committee said, but said he had “issues” with the current proposal.

Board member Theresa Meshes (D-Fox River Grove), who’s also on the finance committee, said she was concerned with how much the county spends on leasing and she wanted to see more options presented in committee meetings.

However, some members were supportive of the proposed elections center.

“I think this is the right way for us to go at this time. Things are going to change as we look to elections 10, 15, 20, 25 years down the road. It’s going to change, but right now this meets the needs,” board member Brian Sager (R-Woodstock) said.

Board member Joe Gottemoller (R-Crystal Lake) said he was “perfectly happy” with renting space instead of buying one.

“I don’t want to run out and buy a building,” Gottemoller said.

Board member Lou Ness (D-Woodstock) supported the proposal.

“Voting is the primary function of government and our job is to make it work for the clerk and the voter,” Ness said.

The County Board is expected to vote Tuesday night on whether to go forward with the lease.