Work, expected to cost nearly $2.5 million, will begin later this month on three renovation projects in the newer section of the Harford County Circuit Courthouse in Bel Air.
The part of the project that will be most visible to the public involves expansion of the vestibule area on the building’s Office and Courtland Street sides, including the replacement of the revolving doors at both entrances with sliding doors.
The newer section of the courthouse was built between 1981 and 1983. The entrances for the public on Office and Courtland streets have been changed little in the ensuing 35 years, save for the addition of the security station and metal detector between the vestibule and the elevators and stairways.
At its most recent meeting Aug. 7, the county Board of Estimates approved a $2,477,916 contract with Jeffrey Brown Contracting, of Towson, for the renovation of the vestibule, installation of a new jury courtroom on Level 3, the building’s top floor, and renovation of Level B, the building’s sub-basement area, where a new jury assembly area will be built.
In all, courthouse renovations are expected to cost in the $10 million range, according to the current capital budget, a figure that includes prior appropriations of $7 million and $3 million in the 2018-19 budget that took effect July 1. Part of the current budget includes replacement of the roof on both new and old sections of the building, Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County Government, said. She said that work may not, however, be completed during this fiscal year.
The county received two bids for the lastest work, with the Brown firm submitting the lowest bid by about $180,000, according to Board of Estimates documents. The budget estimate for the project was $3.5 million.
The vestibule work is scheduled to start around Aug. 30, Mumby said; the Office Street entrance will be done first.
In addition to removing the revolving doors – for which parts are no longer available – the vestibule will be extended outward, Mumby explained, the steps will be replaced and a new ramp will be built. The work will take four to six months to complete, weather permitting.
While the Office Street work is in progress, the only public entrance to the courthouse will be via Courtland Street.
After the Office Street side is finished, the contractor will work on the Courtland Street side, extending the vestibule outward, replacing the doors and renovating the ramp. This work will take another four to six months, weather permitting, Mumby said.
Meanwhile, on Level B, the new jury assembly room will be created, along with offices for support staff, new restrooms, a nursing room and a kitchen, according to Mumby. The space formerly was home to the Bar Association Library that pretty much became obsolete as most of the research materials and books are available in digital form, she said.
The Level B work will begin around Aug. 23. Mumby said they don’t, however, have a firm completion date of what is considered phase one of the interior renovations.
Once the Level B work is completed, the phase two work will begin on Level 3, to include installation of the new courtroom, judges chambers, jury deliberation room and other ancillary facilities.
The space on Level 3 had been occupied by the Register of Wills since the building opened in 1983. That office moved to the 18 Office St. building, which is across from the courthouse, in spring 2017.
It will take approximately 12 months to complete both phases on levels B and 3, Mumby said, with the latter work to accommodate the sixth judge who has been on board since early 2016.
The work being done is part of a master plan of renovations and upgrades for the older and newer sections of the courthouse that was developed in the previous county administration, Mumby said. The project will also accommodate the sixth judge approved by the legislature in 2016.
During 2015-17, the county replaced the heating, cooling and ventilation system in the entire complex and also undertook a historic renovation project that involved the masonry and windows in the older, original part of the courthouse that dates to 1859.
The historic renovation project was completed in February, according to Mumby, and was budgeted at $464,500, with funding entirely by the county without state support. The contract was awarded to a Harford County company, Modern CSI, of Street.
An interesting aspect of this project involved the windows, which were not replaced, Mumby said.
“The Historic Preservation Commission asked that the existing windows be retained, but some were cracked and/or had missing hardware and deteriorated caulking,” she explained in an email. “Plus, they were not energy efficient. In fact, you could feel the air flowing through them! So, the contractor removed the original windows, repaired them and put them back in place.”
“In some cases, this involved re-pouring glass into the exiting frame,” she continued. “To make the windows energy efficient, a frameless, solid piece of glass was magnetically fastened over the window on the inside of the building.”
“For the masonry project, deteriorated bricks were removed, turned around, and put back in place to retain as many of the original bricks as possible,” Mumby said. “Mortar color was also custom matched to maintain continuity with the original.”