Courts building violates fire code

Unscheduled inspection reveals problems with electrical wiring, storage

`These are very routine'

Circuit Court clerk says solutions aren't that easy due to space constraints

Howard County

April 19, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

An unplanned inspection of Howard County's Circuit Court building has turned up a series of fire code violations - including exposed wires, overloaded outlets and storage too close to sprinkler heads - in the cramped, historic structure.

Fire and risk management officials visited the building two weeks ago at the request of the sheriff's office to update the court's evacuation plan. But that visit turned into an inspection when a fire official noticed violations, said fire Chief Joseph Herr.

"It wasn't our original intent to do a fire prevention inspection," Herr said. But the fire official "felt we should probably get this squared away, too."

According to a report about the inspection conducted April 4, officials found violations of 10 areas of the county's fire prevention code. They included locked doors, items stored too close to sprinkler heads and electric panels, exposed wires, overloaded outlets, and too many extension cords.

The report said the building will be re-inspected in 30 days.

"I didn't really get the impression there was anything there that was going to be impossible to fix in that time frame," Herr said.

Officials said yesterday that the violations can be fixed.

"To be candid with you, these are very routine," said Raquel Sanudo, the county's chief administrative officer.

Issues involving storage will have to be handled by the departments in which the violations occurred, she said. County facilities workers likely will look into the rest.

Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport, who has complained to county officials about crowding and health issues at the 19th-century building, said the violations - some of which were found in her offices - don't surprise her.

But she also said solutions might not be feasible because she has no place to move files without violating other codes and because the building has only so many outlets for an increasing technological load.

"Anything I do, I'm in violation of something," she said.

The workload, number of files and stress on the building have increased with the county population, she said. The building has not had a major renovation since the mid-1980s, and a remodeling project that would have created more space for courtrooms and jury rooms after the state's attorney's office moves to the nearby Carroll building is on hold because of a lack of funds.

A recent study of courthouse space said the renovation project, which was estimated to cost about $860,000, would alleviate some of the crunch. But it concluded that an addition might be needed by 2005.

Rappaport said yesterday that she worries about the possibility of fire at the court building given the conditions.

"It's like sitting on a keg of dynamite," she said.

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