Harford County officials have closed the council building in Bel Air because of structural problems and are moving several offices and about 72 people, including the seven members of the County Council, out of the location.
The Harford County Council, the Department of Public Works and the Cultural Arts Board moved to temporary sites Monday while the three-story building on South Bond Street undergoes further structural reviews. It is "untenable for occupancy," county officials said.
County Executive David R. Craig said in a news release that officials will continue to look for a long-term solution and that the closing is "precautionary based upon the professional judgment of building and codes officials and engineers."
"As the owner of the building we are exercising due diligence to ensure the safety of the County Council, our employees and the public who frequents the offices at 212 South Bond Street," Craig said.
The county purchased the 25-year-old building in 1996. Many have since dubbed it "the black box," referring to its walls of tinted windows.
When employees reported cracking in the walls three months ago, the county initiated a structural engineering evaluation. Engineering consultants conducted a second evaluation last month and recommended additional structural support for joists and trusses at several locations in the building. There has not been an order to condemn the structure, but closing the building ensures the safety of employees and allows time for further analysis, officials said.
"We are waiting further structural reports before determining the next steps," said Ben Lloyd, county spokesman. "In terms of getting back into the building, it will be months."
Council members and their staffs will relocate to the second floor of a county property at 18 Office St., across from the courthouse in Bel Air. The council will use the board room at the A.A. Roberty Building, the public schools administration offices, at 102 S. Hickory Ave. in Bel Air for business meetings, starting with the 6:30 p.m. public hearing and 7:30 p.m. legislative session Tuesday.
Public works offices will operate out of several different locations, with director Robert Cooper and his staff and the office of bonding and permits moving to 220 S. Main St. Traffic staff will be housed at the North Fountain Green Road offices in Hickory and the division of water and sewer employees will work at the county Emergency Operations Center on Ady Road in Forest Hill.
The Cultural Arts Board will relocate to Tudor Hall, a county-owned historic home on the outskirts of Bel Air, which is the location of the Center for Visual and Performance Arts.
Council President Billy Boniface said the condition of the building left officials no alternative.
"I hope that we can make these necessary relocations with as little disruption as possible, and I ask that the public be understanding during this transition," Boniface said in the release.