Inspection finds three violations at courthouse

Cramped clerk's office site of code problems

`I don't know what I can do'

Most infractions found in April were remedied

Howard County

July 10, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard fire officials issued three citations -- each carrying a $100 fine -- against the county's historic Circuit Court building yesterday, citing continued problems with blocked hallways and the sprinkler system.

The violations, the only three not to be remedied after an initial April inspection turned up multiple code problems, were all in one area -- the Howard Clerk of the Circuit Court's space, a historically cramped office with multiple public files and paperwork.

There, fire officials noted a hallway blocked by storage boxes, a file room with court files piled too close to sprinkler heads and a stairwell sprinkler control valve blocked by a filing cabinet.

But while Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport said one of the violations should be easy to fix -- the boxes are filled with old files ready for archiving in Annapolis -- the other two require space she said she does not have.

"If I do one thing, I'm in violation of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. If I do another, I'm in violation of the fire code," she said. "I don't know what I can do. I can't put [the files] outside."

But county spokeswoman Victoria Goodman said she believes the county can work with Rappaport to find a suitable solution.

County officials are not looking to collect the $300 from the citations but instead want to find a way to solve the fire code problems, she said.

All of the facilities issues cited in the April report, including exposed wires and overloaded outlets, have been addressed by the county, she said.

"We are going to work to resolve this irrespective of who's responsible here," she said, adding that the clerk's office likely would be charged with the fine because it is the keeper of the files.

Fire safety issue

"It's a fire safety issue, it has to be taken seriously, and we're looking for compliance."

The citations, which were erroneously issued with the name "Howard County District Court," were the result of a handful of re-inspections following the April visit, an unplanned inspection sparked by an effort to update the building's evacuation plan, Goodman said.

Goodman said that county officials asked Rappaport to move the files after the initial inspection and offered a storage area in another building.

Never told, she says

But Rappaport said yesterday that she was never told to fix the violations and did not receive the April report from the county, although she did see a reporter's copy when called for comment.

Because the documents in her office are public, Rappaport said, moving files out of the Circuit Court would cause problems.

"I have to make them available," she said.

Although a renovation project to refit the state's attorney's space after the office moves to the Carroll building this year is in the works, plans include no additional space for the clerk's office, county officials said.

Addition by 2005?

A recent courthouse space study suggested the renovations as a way to alleviate some of the crunch but also concluded that an addition might be necessary by 2005.

The answer to the immediate space needs may be renewed discussions about how best to use the cramped 19th-century courthouse structure, said James M. Irvin, the county's public works director.

"I think we'll try to get everyone together to work together ... to see if there's an interim solution," he said.

"There has to be a solution to this problem and everyone has to cooperate."

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