xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

In the realities of our world, Harford needs a new courthouse [Editorial]

A "functionally obsolete" circuit courthouse, one which has both security and safety issues, is only one of several deficient facilities owned by Harford County that make up the government center in downtown Bel Air.

Although the county is spending more than $5 million to upgrade the building's heating and cooling system, replace windows and repair the roof, much more is needed to bring the courthouse up to modern standards, according to an evaluation of more than 100 county-owned buildings released by the government earlier this year

Advertisement

The back addition of the courthouse, where most of the public's business is conducted, is younger than all the other buildings owned by the county in Bel Air, except what has morphed into the Harford County Council headquarters, aka "Black Box," on Bond Street, and the A.A. Roberty Building that serves as headquarters for Harford County Public Schools.

Conversely, the older portion of the courthouse was built in 1859, which makes it by far the oldest of the county's other Bel Air buildings: 45 S. Main St., which houses the Sheriff's Office headquarters, turned 50 this year; the main county administrative building at 220 S. Main St. was built privately in the 1960s and acquired by the county in 1981; 18 Office St., which for a time in the 1950s and early '60s housed the entire county government bureaucracy, was built in 1930. The 73,000-square-foot Roberty Building was completed in 2006 under a lease/purchase deal with a private developer.

Advertisement

In 2008, then county executive David Craig, relying on advice from a broad-based committee he appointed, crafted a facilities plan that envisioned building a new county administrative building on the lot the county owns at Main Street and Route 22 and a new Sheriff's Office headquarters on Hays Street where the old Health Department building, since demolished, was. The estimated cost was $117 million.

The plan also proposed moving all the operations of the state's attorney's office, which are scattered at different locations in Bel Air, including the old part of the courthouse, into the 45 S. Main building and moving the health department into the 220 Main building. It proposed selling the Black Box, which four years later had to be taken out of service for a year while its upper floors were shored up.

Craig's plan did not, however, propose any major renovations to or wholesale replacement of the courthouse. When the economy soured a few months after its release, the plan was wisely shelved.

Craig left his successor, Barry Glassman, the latest facilities study that was commissioned in late 2013 and, unlike the 2008 plan, it focused on many of the problems with the courthouse, ranking it the worst condition of 117 buildings.

While all of the county-owned buildings in Bel Air, save the Roberty Building, probably should be replaced, the courthouse should be first on the list.

The most expeditious site for a new courthouse is the county-owned parking lot next to the District Court building. The old building could be used for ceremonies, the state's attorney's staff and, perhaps, the register of wills office. Other county-owned land along Hays Street should be considered for the site of a new parking facility, built in partnership with the state and the Town of Bel Air.

Why build a new courthouse first, at a likely cost of $100 million-plus?

Other than schools, the courthouse has the most daily public traffic of any county government facility. Two government functions that aren't ever going to quit growing are the criminal justice system and civil litigation. And, because of all the security concerns in our contemporary world, you cannot safely conduct either activity in a building that was actually designed in the early 1970s.

When considering the county's facilities needs, the best approach is to start with the most necessary, the courthouse, after which the others should fall more sensibly into place.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement