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Howard County

Howard County Courthouse's temporary move postponed

Back in the summer, plans were made for Howard County Courthouse offices and operations to temporarily relocate while the 170-year-old building was renovated.

They were supposed to move around Labor Day. But nobody has budged yet.

Telephone and security issues had delayed the Circuit Court's change of venue, but now all that remains is to work out the switch of telephone service to the temporary site in Columbia, officials said.

A new date for the move has not been set, but county officials said they expect it will take place within a few months.

The telephone service transfer must take place over a weekend, which means that court telephones must be operational through Friday at the old courthouse and be online by Monday at the new location, said Mark DeLuca, deputy director of public works. In addition, a backup plan must be in place.

"We are working with the contractor, with Verizon, on that," DeLuca said.

On top of that, the courts need to have at least six weeks' notice of the relocation.

No renovation work can take place until the courthouse has been vacated, DeLuca said.

The building in Ellicott City is slated for an $8.58 million renovation, an overhaul that will take an estimated 18 months and is the building's first major rehabilitation project in 25 years. The courthouse's temporary location will be the county-owned AscendOne building in Columbia.

The work will include installation of major systems — a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, an upgrade of courtroom technology, rewiring the building to meet code requirements and modernization of courthouse security. In addition, the juror waiting area will be enlarged and a new elevator is expected to improve access for the disabled.

The move of a courthouse is more complicated than the average office relocation because security is an overwhelming concern and courts can't shut down for a week to move.

"There were a few issues in the lockup area that we had to get straightened out. Other than that, it's been a matter of getting everything tested and working," said Maj. George Voll, who is heading the move for the Sheriff's Department, the agency in charge of courthouse security. The Sheriff's Department handles prisoners, who are kept in holding cells in the courthouse to await their courtroom appearances.

The lockup, or holding cell area, was completed this month

Other courthouse moves have taken place over a weekend. In 1997, the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court moved over a weekend into a new building so that its old offices could be razed and replaced, and the small historic courthouse could be renovated.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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