As the Ellicott City courthouse undergoes a renovation, luxury hotels are an inspiration for its new wedding room's decor.

Clerk to add a touch of Vegas

April 01, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

When Margaret D. Rappaport, clerk of the Howard County Circuit Court, travels out of town, she usually scopes out the local courthouse wedding rooms looking for inspiration on how to spruce up the one in her office.

During a recent trip to Las Vegas, she went further and visited wedding rooms in splashy luxury hotels -- the Bellagio, Caesars Palace and the Venetian. She saw glass sconces at the Venetian and knew those had to be part of the new wedding space that is being built in the Ellicott City courthouse.

"Not that I can duplicate [the hotel wedding rooms]," Rappaport said. "Those are billion-dollar hotels."

The courthouse wedding room renovation is part of a $250,000 project to overhaul the crowded clerk's office that has not been remodeled in nearly 20 years.

The renovations, which began in February, are to be completed May 16. When the project is done, the crowded office, with 42 employees, will have more breathing room. Rather than being crammed into the center of the office, the civil and criminal departments will be in different sections.

Employees have often complained about a musty odor in the office, and a scientist's report last fall determined that mold was growing on the carpeting, ceiling tiles and books in the office. New ceiling tiles and tile flooring, to replace carpeting, are being installed to help alleviate the problem.

"They have a lot of issues in terms of functional work space," said James M. Irvin, the county public works director. "This should deal with overcrowding and difficult working conditions."

A little space was freed up last year, when nonjudicial functions of the court -- including land records, marriage licenses and business licenses -- moved five miles away, to the county-owned Thomas Dorsey Building.

Rappaport welcomes the renovations, but she noted that they are a "Band-Aid." A new building would be better, she said.

The county is considering building a government complex for county offices, which would include a new courthouse. The project, which could cost up to $100 million, could provide up to 350,000 square feet and 900 parking spaces in one place, or split the office space into two locations near the existing county government center.

If a new courthouse is built, Rappaport said, the historic courthouse should be turned into a judicial training center and house Howard County Tourism.

Last year, 755 couples were married at the courthouse, with wedding parties having to walk to the back of the clerk's office to a cozy wedding room.

The new wedding room will be directly on the right as couples come through the office door. It will be twice the size, 17 feet by 14 feet, and will have personal touches besides the white sconces.

Rappaport will add two urns in which to place ferns. The urns will sit beside a white trellis. She paid for the urns and sconces out of her pocket, about $280, in an attempt to make the setting more intimate and romantic.

Although the wedding ceremonies are brief -- sometimes only five minutes -- there's one Las Vegas aspect Rappaport is not trying to emulate: the Nevada city's drive-through chapels.

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