New courthouse opens move goes smoothly

First-day problems were minor, infrequent

September 09, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

With no pomp and only a few peculiar circumstances, the new Anne Arundel County Courthouse opened yesterday, nearly all records, files, books and furniture having been moved over a weekend without a beat being skipped.

"I'm astounded," said Clerk of the Court Robert P. Duckworth, who vacuumed his new office in the morning and performed a wedding ceremony at the other end of the hall in the afternoon.

The few opening-day slip-ups were dwarfed by the magnitude of accomplishing the change of venue, albeit only around the corner from Church Circle to Franklin Street in Annapolis.

There was still plastic on many office lights. "But the lights are on," said an exhausted but jubilant Robert G. Wallace, the court administrator.

Officials praised employees, many of whom had worked 14-hour days since Thursday, for diligence in seeing that the new courthouse opened for business.

"Is the air conditioning working? Are the doors opening? Is the electricity working? Yes," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's director of central services. "Sure, there are some minor things, and we will work them out."

Lawyers found courtroom assignments by consulting paper docket sheets taped to the big television-like screens that will serve as electronic dockets once a software problem is ironed out.

Security chatter occasionally interrupted the light court schedule, two prisoner elevators did not work, and here and there an electrical outlet or telephone was dead.

But employees were enthusiastic about their pleasant new surroundings in a building twice the size of their former cramped quarters. Some returned to the old building next door just to see what a generation of dust bunnies looked like.

"I was thinking about playing tennis in here," quipped Administrative Judge Clayton R. Greene Jr., surveying a courtroom twice the size of the other nine -- and each of those holds 80 spectators.

The courtroom was designed to accommodate cases with many lawyers, busy criminal docket days and ceremonial events.

The entrance to the new building is neither obvious nor marked because it will be just a side door when the rest of the structure is completed in 1999.

Klasmeier watched from a corner as bewildered people, directed away from the old courthouse entrance, found their way down Franklin Street in search of the new courthouse.

"We've got to put up one of those A-frame signs," he said.

Once inside the five-level building, visitors were greeted by security and information personnel.

The security closet and wedding chapel -- dubbed the guns and roses section -- are before the metal detectors. Those features are aimed at allowing people to check weapons before entering the courts and at avoiding clogging up the security measures with couples who have come for marriage licenses.

The courts have gone from a building with so little security that everyone shared one elevator to a high-tech access system that includes three separate sets of elevators for court personnel, prisoners and the public.

No longer can people meander in and out of judges' chambers. The bucket that in the old building served as a weapons repository for visitors -- "You can pick it up on the way out," deputies used to drone -- has been replaced by a secure closet.

And the drab grays and tans of the old building have been replaced by a soothing palette. The dominant colors are the cherry woods and cream walls, with slate trim and earthy purples, golds and greens in carpeting and upholstery.

But the building, next to the 1824 courthouse on Church Circle, is not finished.

In a few weeks, the county will demolish and start to replace a two-story addition to the old building, which was constructed in 1952 and until Friday housed most of the offices and courtrooms. When the $62.3 million project is completed in 1999, the brick and glass courthouse will contain 185,000 square feet and will feature a restoration of the original, historic section.

Already, Greene is thinking ahead: "Now we've got to get a day care center for our employees. That would be neat."

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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