County courthouse gets change of venue Move to new quarters a huge undertaking

September 07, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

It doesn't sound too bad in the abstract -- you've got elevators, manpower and a few hundred dollies and carts to accomplish a move over a weekend. And you're only going next door.

Then there's the fine print.

The old Anne Arundel County Court House has but one elevator -- it's too small for a lot of the furniture and it does not reach the third floor. Just about everything, some of which has to be dismantled first, has to leave through one door and can go into the new building through only one door. Hundreds of thousands of sensitive files and records have to be moved intact and in order.

And everything, from the digital court recording network to the case file tracking system, has to be up and running first thing tomorrow.

Moving the county courthouse is an undertaking so massive that it has not been done since 1823, when the historic part of the old courthouse on Church Circle in Annapolis was first occupied. Since then, the court has sprawled into additions. And that was before it had 26,000 open civil and criminal files, and its judges had enough reference books to pave Main Street.

The change of venue started Tuesday -- but the crunch came over the weekend, because the place where the public's deeds and misdeeds are recorded could not be closed to the public.

"It's a tough move, a tough one," said Walter F. Kneip III, supervisor for Maryland Office Relocators, which has a $27,000 contract to move the bulk of the contents of the courthouse.

Yesterday, court clerks, law clerks, supervisors, bailiffs, even judges could be spotted pushing carts, carrying lamps, wheeling furniture. And there were odd jobs to be done.

Chief bailiff David Colburn and bailiff Gene Long sat on a curb with bags of play sand. A new Old Glory and Maryland flag will stand in every courtroom, and the bailiffs were packing sand into the bases to prevent the banners from toppling.

Furniture tags and five floors were color coded, so that all blue labeled items headed for the second floor, where county facilities worker Tom Baldwin, floor plan in hand, directed traffic. Many workers also were color-coded -- movers in red company T-shirts, courthouse workers in teal Relocation '97 shirts and painting crews in speckled T's.

Jerome W. Klasmeier, county central services director, offered up a hot lunch for county employees, some of whom worked until 11 p.m. Friday and were back at 8 a.m. yesterday. He was grilling hot dogs behind construction trailers in what has been a makeshift parking lot for judges.

"You want to try a jalapeno hot dog?" Klasmeier asked juvenile court Master James McCarthy.

McCarthy came to unpack his office, tour the building and find out where to park. "We've got cases [tomorrow] morning," he said.

The new building features 31 secure underground parking spaces.

Gary Russell, a Professional Products Inc. worker, gave Circuit Judge James C. Cawood Jr. a lesson on the bench's electrical control box, a gizmo that offers the judge fingertip control of microphones, telephones, lights and computers around the courtroom.

The judge found the technology impressive -- he can even create noise to keep a bench conference private -- but wondered whether it would take until his retirement to learn to love it.

"Let's put it this way: I am waiting for my quill pens to come over," he said.

In checking the technology earlier in the morning, Russell punched an electrical button that sent security officials into a tizzy. He'd hit the court clerk's panic button.

There were, of course, glitches. Storage shelves that were supposed to be reused in the new building were so rotted that they fell apart when dismantled in the old offices. Some furniture destined for storage in a county warehouse appeared in judges' chambers.

Providing the county with a new 185,000-square-foot courthouse 1999 is a $62.3 million project. This is only Phase 1. Next, the county will demolish and replace a portion of the courthouse along South Street, a two-story addition built in 1952 that houses most of the offices and courtrooms. The final phase is restoration of the original 1824 courthouse, which faces Church Circle.

That makes much of the move temporary. The result is that many rooms are better identified by green paper signs, not the brass lettering over the doorway.

For example, the 20,000-plus-tome law library left its dusty basement digs in the old building last week for a new courtroom. Librarian Joan Ballestri will preside from the judge's bench, not an office. Some volumes of the Maryland Annotated Code are stacked in a prisoner holding cell.

Elsewhere, what is labeled overhead as the law library is an office for social workers. In two years, the back wall of that office will be removed and the room will be attached to the new half of the building, creating space for a large law library.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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