Former Lawrenceville Wal-Mart becomes county elections office

LAWRENCEVILLE - When Lynn Ledford joined the Gwinnett County elections department 20 years ago, her office was located in the former mental ward of Button Gwinnett Hospital.

On Friday, she moved into what was once the children's department of a local Wal-Mart.

But Ledford said the move is no laughing matter - finally, the county's elections department has the room to keep all its staff and equipment in one place.

"Without the space it couldn't be a very efficient process," she said. "We've got the space we've needed for a long time."

Ledford's staff of 20 will be the first to set up shop in what is now known as the county's central services facility. Officials purchased the building - Lawrenceville's original Wal-Mart on Grayson Highway - last year and used it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a one-stop shop for services to evacuees.

Construction is still going on at the 100,000-plus square-foot building.

At the end of September, another portion of the former shopping center will open as a records management location, and health officials will begin moving in December, said project manager Jeff Hairston. The Lawrenceville health clinic is expected to open at the facility next March.

Directing a team of movers and surrounded by other workers setting up computers and running cables through the ceiling, Ledford said she felt like she was working a presidential election, where her staff size quadruples to take care of voter registrations, poll locations and equipment.

In 2004, Ledford said she had to set up an overnight shift for temporary workers because she didn't have enough space for them to work during the day.

Also that year, hundreds of people crammed into the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center to cast early ballots.

The new elections office has a much smaller space for absentee and early voting, but Ledford said she hopes to have several satellite locations to make casting ballots more convenient.

But the Gwinnett native said space isn't the only positive about the central services building; she's also glad county commissioners decided to revamp an old shopping center instead of constructing another government building.

"It was an eyesore, sitting here waiting for crime," she said. "I think it's a good investment. It was a very smart move on the county's part in more ways than one."