Threat assessment complete, Amherst modifies polling place plan for school

  • Voting stickers. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2018

AMHERST — A police officer will be present at Crocker Farm School during the March 27 town election after safety concerns were raised by parents about use of the West Street location as a polling site.

The School Committee recently gave the go-ahead for Superintendent Michael Morris to request that the Select Board and Town Manager Paul Bockelman approve having an officer stationed at the school throughout that day.

Morris said a threat assessment completed by Police Lt. Brian Johnson identified Crocker Farm as the biggest security issue at any of the three public schools used as polling sites.

Precinct 7 voters go to Crocker Farm, with Precinct 6 voters heading to Fort River on South East Street and Precinct 9 voters casting ballots at Wildwood on Strong Street.

Fort River and Wildwood have exterior access to the gymnasiums, allowing voters to enter the polling area within the buildings but not classroom areas.

That is not the case at Crocker Farm. Morris said the Crocker Farm gymnasium is in the middle of the building.

Johnson did school-building walk-throughs with new Facilities Director James McPherson to determine possible threats.

School Committee member Eric Nakajima said at the Feb. 5 meeting that it makes sense to have a police officer to reassure parents and staff that it’s a safe environment.

Morris said he will make sure families are informed in advance so they are comfortable with the presence of uniformed personnel, because Amherst schools don’t regularly have officers in schools.

Another recommendation in the threat assessment report is scheduling curriculum days to be concurrent with elections, something that is already done. But Morris notes there are often more voting days than curriculum days. The November election will be a curriculum day this year.

The report also suggests better signage, making it clear where people should park, and that the school public-address systems be fully functional.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone told the School Committee that he has had conversations with Town Clerk Sandra Burgess about consolidating polling sites, in part because of challenges in getting constables.

Morris said he appreciated the thorough response from police.