Council reviews campus designs

Lukewarm reactions to proposed complex of government offices

`Not going to happen soon'

March 22, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

There's no money to build it yet, but Howard County's plan for a new Ellicott City government complex featuring a pair of curved glass, brick and stone buildings that would look down on a wooded ravine was presented to the County Council yesterday.

The plan represents County Executive James N. Robey's desire to accomplish three major goals: consolidate government offices in one place, renovate and modernize the 1970s vintage George Howard complex on Court House Drive, and prepare the government for the next 30 years of growth.

"This is a project we believe is as exciting for the public we serve as it is for us," Victoria Goodman, county information director, told the council. The design by architect Peter J. Hoppner of the Hillier Group in Princeton, N.J., "respects the natural elements of the landscape," Goodman said.

Several council members, who are facing a budget deficit and an election year, were less excited about the plans, though.

"It's a long way off. There's nothing there [for funding]," said Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat.

"It's not going to happen soon," added western county Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, who questioned where a new Circuit Court building would go.

And although east Columbia Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray said "it's a good idea to centralize and consolidate," he, too, expressed reservations about the project.

Plans for the new campus, which could take eight years to finish and cost $60 million, are scheduled to be presented to the public at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the council's formal chamber in Ellicott City.

Despite the lack of construction money, county Public Works Director James M. Irvin said development work should begin this summer on the 25-acre site that the county bought two years ago. Sales of surplus county land and buildings worth $5.8 million, andone more worth $1.3 million, will finance the work.

The land is between Rogers Avenue and U.S. 40, and could be entered either from Ridge Road or Rogers Avenue. It's a few minutes' walk from the county government's current complex.

The county challenged a private design team that included architects and planners to come up with a land-use plan that would set a higher design standard for buildings in Howard County, officials said.

"We want this project to be an example," said Daniel S. Hudson, managing director of Trammell Crow Co. of Dallas, which oversaw the work.

Melanie Moser, vice president of Towson-based Daft, McCune and Walker, said the land was first owned by Rebecca Herbert in 1703, and was farmed until 1966, when the family of Frederick A. Kaiser stopped farming and sold out. The remaining farmland slowly turned to woods.

The most prominent feature of the site, planners said, is a deep ravine that runs through the center of it. With a stream, steep slopes and wetlands, only about half the site is suitable for building.

To make the buildings blend, minimize environmental impacts and not overwhelm nearby residential areas, the design team proposed bracketing the ravine with two curved structures. One would be a three-level parking garage for the vehicles of 600 county workers, and the other would be a pair of four-story curved buildings joined at the center by an open lobby and meeting area. A covered footbridge would connect the garage to the offices.

Hudson said the public would enter the complex through the 10,000-square-foot lobby, which could include a small amphitheater for ceremonies.

"The public would look down to see and experience the ravine," he said.

The two office buildings would cover about 280,000 square feet, and visitors would use 150 surface parking spots on a lot bordering Rogers Avenue.

Cheryl Duvall, an interior space planner based in Oella, said she tried to put offices that provide human services -- such as housing, resident services and a 911 center -- in one building. Other agencies serving the government, such as public works and the Office of Law, would take the other.

The county executive's and County Council's space would remain in the George Howard Building, which would be renovated after the new complex is complete. A spot for a new courts building eventually could be found at one of the two campuses, Irvin said.

Kittleman and Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, were skeptical of plans for open work spaces that would allow people from nearby offices to share some conference tables.

"It worked so well in the school system, we're going back," Kittleman remarked, joking about the push to eliminate open classrooms.

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