Carroll County courthouse designer hears suggestions from state board

Architect says drawings aim to blend building with Westminster's past

July 16, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Members of the State Architectural Review Board suggested changes yesterday to a preliminary design for Carroll County's new District Court building and told HLM Design of Bethesda to return for the board's regular meeting next month.

The county's $6.7 million multipurpose courthouse will house two district courtrooms, public defenders, court commissioners, juvenile justice, parole and probation, clerks and other offices -- with room to double in size and add two courtrooms, said Tom Massey, architect, senior principal and project manager for HLM.

The courthouse will be at Court Street and Greenwood Avenue -- a tight 1.5-acre site that put constraints on the design when coupled with specific rooms required inside, he said.

The large size of the building posed a challenge, said Massey and Chris Knight, vice president of HLM Design.

Creative solutions

"We were trying to create two things: high space over the courtrooms to allow outside light, and to diminish the overall scale of the whole building," said Knight. "We were consciously not trying to build a big box on that site, a big simple box.

"The building itself is brick with a variety of roof shapes, to reduce its apparent scale and size it to some of the stone and brick buildings around it. There's a real history here," he said, "different architectural styles in the city of Westminster. We think the use of different shapes will make it fit in more with its immediate neighborhood.

"It looked to us like, walking around the town, it really is a charming place," Knight said. "It looks like Norman Rockwell's version of the community we all wish we grew up in."

The site has the advantage of two levels, allowing a lower rear entrance for after-hours business, and a small parking area for judges, Massey said. In front, the design includes a pedestrian plaza.

Landscape architect J. Kenneth Schmidt Jr., of Mahan Rykiel Associates Inc., of Baltimore, said all but about three linden trees in an area between the new building and the courthouse annex would be preserved "to pull the two facilities together and reinforce the streetscape."

Facade plans questioned

Although they generally accepted the plan yesterday, some board members seemed cool toward the idea of a two-tone facade using tan and red brick, and suggested that the architects eliminate a protruding pavilion-style public entrance at the corner and move the entrance inside the main rectangle.

"I appreciate you looking back to the old Westminster, instead of trying to draw a modern building," said Edward C. Kohls.

"I have a hard time with the two-color brick," said Steven G. Ziger, but "there's something about the building that feels pretty good for me, in that it has a pretty robust proportion that I think is good for Westminster."

Some board members also expressed concern about crowded walkways and streets.

"This would be the place for parking tickets," Kohls noted, "so we would see a lot of people coming for the first time."

"With growth and development, there's a very strong probability of increased expansion," which would take over the rear parking lot, said Edward A. Masek.

"It's just a question of time," he said, suggesting that the design for the back of the building needs work. "It's saying, `Coming soon: Phase Two.' If it's not coming soon, I think you need to finish off that back a little better."

The meeting was a typical first session, said Carl L. Fox, deputy chief of project management and design for the Maryland Department of General Services, who oversees about a dozen projects.

Carroll's 41,000-square-foot courthouse is on schedule for design completion by March 2000, with construction to begin in August 2000 and finish in February 2002, Fox said.

The seven-member review board meets the third Thursday of the month at the department's West Preston Street offices in Baltimore and plays an advisory role to the architects -- "that's why you have the give-and-take."

The board usually meets about five times with the architects, Fox said, before final review and approval by the state, then advertising for construction bids.

Yesterday saw the groundbreaking for a $3.9 million district courthouse in Hagerstown, to be completed in September 2000.

Courthouse designs around Maryland have come under public criticism for a certain blandness in recent years, Fox said, but having seen some of the original ideas, they "could have been worse."

Changes with time

The state prefers that architects avoid hard-to-maintain flat roofs in favor of sloped roofs and buildings that blend with their surroundings rather than trying to make a statement.

Although many old courthouses feature a clock tower, Fox said, "the District Courts don't want clocks on the exterior of the building. The people that run the courts know that if people are late for court, they can use the clock outside as an excuse."

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