Simpson Voting House 'ready to go'

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

It's the place where Derry Township voters cast their ballots in 1904 to give Teddy Roosevelt his first full term in office.

And if officials from the Derry Area Historical Society have their way, the Simpson Voting House will be back in business well before the next presidential runoff.

But today, as local voters go to the polls, the historic structure remains empty.

That could change next spring if the one-room clapboard building, which has been moved to its current spot near Route 22 and refurbished, is allowed to reopen.

“It could be used now,” said Evelyn Ruffing, a historical society board member coordinating the renovation project. “There is no justification for not using it. It's just ready to go.”

But Ruffing's excitement has been tempered by an ongoing dispute at the Westmoreland County Courthouse about the building's future.

Republican Commissioner Charles Anderson said that while he's a proponent of restoring the old building to host voters, more work needs to be done to the building before it can be used for voting.

And the county will not spend any more money on the project, said Anderson, who chairs the three-man board of commissioners.

The county has spent $15,000 on the voting house. Earlier this year, officials scrapped plans to spend an additional $15,000 that had been earmarked for the renovation.

“I'm not going to spend money on something that will be a black hole. I want to see if it (the building) is viable,” Anderson said.

To that end, the county asked that the facility be evaluated.

A representative from the Pennsylvania Department of State will examine the building in December and make a recommendation to county officials as to whether the Simpson Voting House can be used as a polling place.

More than 500 voters in the precinct are presently using the New Alexandria Firemen's Club on Route 22.

Commissioner Ted Kopas, the lone Democrat on the board, said the only work that is needed is the installation of a paved parking lot and handicapped-accessible railing.

“I think it should be the county's obligation,” Kopas said. “It's our obligation to the folks in the Simpson precinct and the county's heritage to see this project through to completion. And we will.”

After being used for elections for a century, the voting house was shuttered in 2004. County officials said it was outdated and lacked modern restrooms and facilities to accommodate voters with physical handicaps.

The county moved the building on the back of a flatbed truck from its former site near Pittsburgh Raceway Park to county-owned property a mile east on Route 22.

Ruffing said volunteers worked over the summer to finish the project, although there is still no plumbing, which would require the county to bring in portable toilets on Election Day.

Otherwise, the building can easily handle voters, she said.

“It's definitely big enough,” Ruffing said. “People have really worked hard for this.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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