Plans scuttled for Howard courthouse temporary move

Plans to relocate court proceedings in Howard County so the courthouse can undergo an $8.58 million renovation were scuttled Monday when the Circuit Court's administrative judge decided that security in the temporary location wouldn't be adequate.

"The bottom line was that they just couldn't give me the security at the level the court needed," Judge Lenore R. Gelfman said.

After a series of meetings with county government officials, Gelfman said arrangements for additional security enhancements at the temporary location in the Ascend One building in Columbia could not be worked out. The building contains private and county offices. Gelfman declined to specify the sticking points over security.

About $1.3 million has been spent preparing the Ascend One building, with $275,000 going toward security and other equipment that would return to the courthouse, said county spokesman Kevin Enright. But Enright said some of the changes to Ascend One won't got to waste.

"Many of the changes and alterations that were made to this building will fit the needs and physical layout that the Howard County Health Department will require when they move into that facility in July 2013," he said in an email.

He said the rooms remodeled for prisoner holding cells could serve several purposes for the health department, including storage for medications.

For now, he said the Board of Education and the county's IT and human resources departments will remain at the building.

As for the courthouse, Gelfman said she plans to form a committee, to include the legal community, judges and county officials, to look into the prospects for building a new courthouse or adding onto the existing one.

She said she hopes the county can do some of the planned improvements while the courthouse is occupied. What work might take place remains the subject of discussions between Gelfman and the county administration.

"We have agreed with Judge Gelfman that we will do some repairs in the courthouse that can be handled without having to vacate the courthouse. What those changes are have not yet been decided," Enright said.

Plans to make improvements to the courthouse date to 2009. Constructing a new courthouse had been considered too costly.

The historic courthouse was last renovated in 1986. Proposed changes include an expansion of the juror waiting area, improved handicap accessibility, rewiring to meet county code and technology modernization.

The Circuit Court was to relocate for an estimated 18 months while its building in Ellicott City was being refurbished. Plans had called for moving the court over last Labor Day weekend, but that was delayed because of security and phone issues.