Courthouse juggles offices as state's attorney plans move

Prosecutors' shift to free 6,300 square feet of space

Howard County

February 20, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Circuit Courthouse is about to get some breathing room - about 6,300 square feet of it.

The state's attorney's office plans to move to roomier offices down the street in the Carroll Building next month, freeing a two-level corner in the chronically cramped building that court officials say will quickly be filled.

While the changes will mean more room for the sheriff's office, one of the county's masters and other employees, court officials will have to make do with the space as is.

A renovation that would rehab the space to create a fully functional courtroom, an additional master's hearing room and more jury rooms is planned. But the $1.6 million needed for construction - a figure that includes planning money for a future addition to the building - is up in the air.

"The question is, where is the money coming from?" said James M. Irvin, the county's director of public works. "I don't know the answer to that question now."

The local delegation to the state legislature rejected last month a request for the state to pick up $300,000 of the total tab.

The county's ability to pay the entire cost depends, in part, on whether state lawmakers approve County Executive James N. Robey's proposal to increase the real estate transfer tax, Irvin said.

A vote by the county's legislative delegation is scheduled next week, but Howard's three senators have said they oppose the plan.

Even if the county includes the entire cost of construction in next year's capital budget, the project would not be ready to go out to bid until at least late summer, Irvin said.

Officials are still making their choice for a project architect, he said, and whoever is chosen likely would need several months to draw the plans.

Despite the funding uncertainty, court officials say they are making plans to use the space in the interim to take care of "immediate needs."

Elaine Patrick, a master in chancery who hears child-support cases, will move into the building, as will the court social worker, said Judge Diane O. Leasure, the county's administrative circuit judge. Both have been working in off-site offices. A few courthouse employees with upstairs offices will be relocated to the space, freeing their former space for prosecutors to use when they go to court.

"We can use it in its present condition for what we need," Leasure said.

While none of the state's attorney's space is expected to go to Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret D. Rappaport, who has frequently lobbied for more room to expand her crowded offices, Leasure said she is "committed to finding more space" for the clerk.

Plans to move the state's attorney's office have been in the works for more than a year, but dates have been pushed back repeatedly while county officials juggled the moves of various departments and worked on refitting the space in the Carroll Building to suit prosecutors' needs.

The state's attorney's new space is about 50 percent bigger and includes a room for the grand jury to meet, said Deputy State's Attorney Dario Broccolino.

While the juvenile division and the victim/witness unit have moved, additional work is needed on work stations for the rest of the staff, he said. He said he is hoping the office will be completely moved into the Carroll Building by the end of next month.

The new space is bigger, cleaner and "freshly painted," but will be less convenient for prosecutors, who soon will have to haul files back and forth, Broccolino said.

"It is clearly a mixed blessing," he said.

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