County Drops Expansion, Opts For New Courthouse

Starting From Scratch To Save $8.8 Million

September 30, 1990

After spending $800,000 and several years developing plans to expand the Anne Arundel County Courthouse, county officials have decided to scrap the plans and build a new courthouse.

The savings, County Attorney Stephen Beard estimated, will amount to $8.8 million to $10 million, more than 10 times the money the county spent designing the expansion plan.

"It's a question of common sense and dollars and cents," Beard said.

The new $23.3 million courthouse, announced at a press conference Friday, will be built on the corner of Calvert and Clay streets next to the county parking garage, where a park is now.

Expanding the old Church Circle courthouse would have cost $32.1 million. About $5.5 million of the money would have been used to build two levels of underground parking at the old courthouse. The new courthouse building will have parking above ground, and nearby garages will also be used.

The old courthouse is located in the city's Historic District, and the expansion required much work and zoning revisions by the Department of Planning and Zoning and the Historic Annapolis Foundation, which hired an architect to work with the county on the project.

The new courthouse will be located just outside the Historic District, but the county will work closely with Historic Annapolis on it, said County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis.

While city officials are pleased the courthouse is staying in Annapolis, at least one, Alderman John R. Hammond, R-Ward 1, wasn't happy with the wasted effort on the expansion.

"I'm surprised the county has changed horses in midstream," said Hammond, whose ward includes the old courthouse. "We really did bend over backwards to accommodate them at the present site."

County officials became concerned about the cost of the project while working on design plans last year, Beard said, and began looking at other sites. When the Permit Processing Center moved to Riva in January, creating space in the Arundel Center for court staff, county officials began looking into building the new courthouse across the street. A study confirmed the move would save money.

The old courthouse has been overcrowded for years, said Beard and County Administrative Judge Bruce Williams. County Executive O. James Lighthizer began looking at solutions to the problem when he came into office eight years ago.

"The place has a sense of a stockyard sometimes, on days when you have 150-200 jurors there," Beard said. The old courthouse, built in 1824, will be renovated and used for Council Council chambers and offices, as well as the County Executive's and County Auditor's offices. A dilapidated 1952 renovation to the courthouse will be torn down, and the space used for parking and open space. Historic Annapolis may locate its offices in the old courthouse.

The new courthouse will have 12 courtrooms. The old courthouse would have received six additional courtrooms in addition to the eight it has. Each of the nine Circuit Court judges will have his own courtroom in the new courthouse, which will be completed in May 1993, about the same amount of time it would have taken to complete the expansion.

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