Study says courthouses `inadequate'

Renovations, construction of new facility suggested

October 21, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A study of Baltimore's Circuit Courthouses released yesterday recommended that the city's two main court buildings undergo extensive renovations and that a new criminal courthouse be built downtown with all the work costing an estimated $324.5 million. The recent study elaborates on previous reports that detailed needs for improved court facilities.

Calling the current courthouses "inadequate," the study -- performed by Baltimore and New York archtects at the direction of the state -- suggested eight sites where a new, $130 million criminal courthouse could be built. Two of those locations are on Guilford Avenue, adjacent to the rear of Courthouse East.

"The need is there," said Baltimore Circuit Court Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller. "We will ask leaders in city and state government, as well as leaders in the business and legal community, to come up with ideas to fund it."

The consultants who worked on the study, Richter Cornbrooks Gribble Inc. of Baltimore and Ricci Associates of New York, concluded that the 102-year-old Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse on the west side of the 100 block of N. Calvert St., functions inadequately for criminal cases, and that it would not be cost-effective to renovate it for that purpose. Instead, that building should be used for civil cases only, the study said. Problems range from poor air quality and faulty fire safety systems to lack of separation between judges and defendants in elevators and corridors.

Courthouse East, on the other side of Calvert Street., would be converted to office space for the clerk of the court, the state's attorney and other departments. Other sites recommended for the new criminal courthouse include Guilford Avenue and Saratoga Street; Saratoga between Holliday and Gay streets; and Pratt between South and Commerce streets.

The $375,000 study was paid with state funds.

Heller said plans for the courthouse expansion and renovation are "moving ahead with no delay." She said she will meet with Mayor Martin O'Malley and others in the next few days to discuss funding and site options. Next month, she plans to meet with leaders in the business and legal communities.

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