Courtyard appeals to court annex employees

Judge's concern was security, not beauty, for ex-parking lot

October 31, 2001|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A red-brick-like surface glows warmly against a backdrop of green grass behind the Carroll County Circuit Court annex building - where not long ago the landscape consisted of a cratered asphalt parking lot and a trash bin.

Four ornamental cherry trees have been planted, with seasonal flowers at the edge of the grass. More amenities are planned for the small courtyard behind the annex building on North Court Street in Westminster.

"I'm really pleased with the result," said Administrative Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. "The employees seem to really appreciate being able to look out their windows and not see a Dumpster and cars."

But the judge's primary motivation was terrorism, not aesthetics.

"I started thinking about making an atrium or courtyard after Oklahoma City," said Beck, referring to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in which 168 people were killed by a truck bomb. "I think the courts have been ahead of the power curve on security."

Parking on the side of the street in front of the courthouse annex was eliminated right away, he said. But the small parking lot at the rear entrance posed a challenge - and presented an opportunity.

The spot could have been a terrorist's dream: bounded by the U-shaped, three-story building, "where people could bring explosives in a truck or drive within the inside three walls," he said.

"We can't change the way the courthouse is physically sited," Beck said of the annex, built in 1967. "But we needed to improve it, for looks and security.

"I thought about what to put there after we got rid of that," he said of the parking lot and steps leading to rear doors.

Eliminating jokes about gallows and stocks, the judge said he kept returning to the fact that everyone called the area a courtyard.

The project cost about $35,000 from his budget, Beck said. County employees did most of the work, except the red blacktop, which was rolled into a brick pattern while wet.

The rear entrance was closed about July 1, drawing grumbles from employees who said they weren't told and had to walk around to the building's front doors at 55 N. Court St.

The work was substantially complete and the rear doors reopened by the end of August. Yesterday, workers installed a black iron fence at the edge of the courtyard to replace a temporary wooden one.

The new landscape has drawn few lingerers - the occasional employee or defendant taking a quick cigarette break and indifferent to the scenery.

More people used the area before, seated at an old picnic table or along the low walls around the steps. The picnic table, with the steps and low wall, is gone.

Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said the courtyard is "a very lovely area out there. The aesthetics are lovely."

Beck plans to add four concrete picnic tables with benches. They will be handicapped friendly because one side will be left open for wheelchairs. Umbrellas, awnings and planter boxes also are in the works.

The now-level area "kind of all goes together," the judge said. "Everybody calls it a courtyard."

Now, it is one.

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