Court may stay Plan is to renovate Circuit Courthouse

September 17, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Annapolis and county officials met this week and reached a tentative agreement to keep the Circuit Courthouse in the heart of the city's historic downtown.

In a move signaling an increased likelihood that the court will stay on Church Circle, county officials unveiled a cardboard model of a proposed expansion that fits in with the historic district. Annapolis officials left the meeting Monday optimistic about keeping the court downtown.

For years the county had planned to replace the cramped courthouse with a new building across the street from the Arundel Center. But County Executive Robert R. Neall and court officials are not happy with the $16.3 million proposal because the site is so small that clerks would be forced to work in a separate building across the street.

A space committee led by Victor Sulin, the county's commercial revitalization coordinator, has been studying alternatives for the court, which wants to expand from seven courtrooms to 12. Annapolis officials and business leaders have petitioned the group to avoid relocating the court from the aging brick building on Church Circle.

The three-stage plan unveiled Monday calls for renovating the historic bell tower, which dates to the 1800s, for offices of the County Council and executive. This would ease the space crunch at the Arundel Center and centralize county offices in downtown Annapolis.

In the first phase, three buildings on Cathedral Street would be razed -- the State's Attorney's Office, Orphans Court and a methadone center run by the county Health Department. A 100,000-square-foot building extending along Cathedral Street would be developed to house the new court rooms, judge's chambers and sheriff's office.

The 1951 addition to the courthouse, which fronts on South Street, would be demolished in the second phase and replaced with a 150,000-square-foot building. That building would house the administrative court offices and be linked to the courtrooms.

The third phase involves restoring the original, 20,000-square-foot courthouse on Church Circle for county offices. Parking spaces for some 65 cars would be built under the new complex.

The three buildings would take up most of the city block between Franklin and South streets, except for the Banneker-Douglass Museum and a couple of nearby offices, said Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1, who attended the meeting and wrote a summary for Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins is at home recuperating from triple-bypass heart surgery.

"This is certainly something that could be achieved," Mr. Hammond said, who was upbeat about the meeting and described it as "fruitful."

He said the concept seemed to fit in with the city's height and bulk guidelines, although several restrictions would have to be loosened. To keep the project moving, Mr. Hammond is drafting an ordinance that would allow the complex proposed by the county, although he said he wants to make sure it "is scaled so that it is reflective of the traditional character of Annapolis."

Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's director of central services, also said he was "encouraged" by the meeting, though he cautioned that the county is still looking at four other sites.

He said the project hinges on the approval of the Historic District Commission, a panel that oversees everything from building changes to new signs in downtown Annapolis. A meeting with the commission and historic preservationists, which he described as "critical," is scheduled for Oct. 4.

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