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Election panel OKs use of historic voting site in Derry Township

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 5:03 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Public works employee Henry Fitz marks off the edge of the parking lot of the revamped Simpson voting house while preparing it to be paved on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Derry Township.

The historic Simpson Voting House in Derry Township is expected to open to voters for the May 21 primary election.

The Westmoreland County Election Board Tuesday unanimously approved use of the more than 100-year-old polling place.

Completion of a parking area and installation of a handicapped-accessible railing are all that remain to open the site, said Derry Area Historical Society board member Evelyn Ruffing.

Elections were last held in the Simpson Voting House in 2004.

“We always wanted to do it. We wanted to make sure that before we spent more taxpayer money on it, that it met (state standards),” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

Pennsylvania Department of State officials met with commissioners and historical society representatives in December and determined that the site meets those standards.

“We are excited to have it open. It's a great preservation of history,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said.

“We are almost there. It's been a long time coming. I think this will be a unique voting experience” for Simpson precinct voters, Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

The county has spent $15,000 and four years working out details of the project, which moved the last free-standing polling place in Westmoreland County from its former site near Pittsburgh Raceway Park to county-owned property a mile east on Route 22 for renovations.

The district's approximately 500 voters were redirected to the New Alexandria Fireman's Club.

Ruffing cited volunteer efforts to re-establish the voting house once it was moved.

“We received a beautiful donation from Keith Dolan of Blairsville,” Ruffing said.

Dolan, president of K. Dolan Construction Corp., said he agreed to provide asphalt, which he was able to purchase at cost, along with labor for excavation and paving.

“I like Evelyn's spirit and her gumption,” Dolan said.

Dolan said he will be moving his company to Derry Township in the near future.

“It's a nice project, and we are fortunate enough to be able to help out,” he said.

Dolan estimated the donation of material and labor at about $10,000.

Such donations helped to lessen the county's contribution, Tyler said.

“If it all gets done, our plan is to open it on May 21,” Anderson said.

“This has really been a good business partnership with the county, the township and the historical society,” Kopas said.

Ruffing said the small building, not much bigger than most people's living rooms, shows up on an 1876 Simpson Farm atlas.

“I believe it is the oldest extant voting property in Westmoreland County,” Ruffing said.

A ceremony to recognize the Keystone of Democracy with Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, commissioners and historical society is scheduled for May 16 at the voting house.

To qualify, a polling place must have been in use for at least 50 consecutive years.

“The idea there is to recognize the physical building, the county, the precinct workers and the people who came there to vote,” Ron Ruman, department press secretary, said earlier.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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