The Office Street entrance to the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air has reopened and the Courtland Street side has closed as part of an ongoing renovation.
The $2.6 million project, which includes four parts, is expected to be finished in November, said Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County Government.
In addition to the Office Street entrance, the new jury assembly room on Level B of the courthouse, the lowest level, is finished.
The space on the third floor, the highest in the courthouse, that was the jury room and office of the register of wills is being converted to a courtroom.
“The circuit courthouse was identified as the top priority for upgrades to improve functionality in a 2015 independent analysis of countywide facilities. Space was also needed to accommodate the sixth judge whose position was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016,” Mumby said. “The courthouse is a valued asset as part of Harford County's history.”
Work on the Courtland Street entrance, expected to be finished in September, began once the Office Street entrance reopened. That was delayed for about six weeks because of a change in the project, Mumby said.
The project was delayed for two to three days because the top level of concrete was slightly off on the required grade for ADA compliance. It had to be removed and repoured, she said. The cost of that is the responsibility of the contractor, Jeffrey Brown Contracting, of Towson.
The Office Street ramp was going to be only a service ramp for deliveries, but when officials realized the Courtland Street entrance would be closed for an extended time during the renovation, they opted to make the Office Street ramp meet ADA requirements, Mumby said.
The project was then delayed for six weeks while it was redesigned, regraded, resurveyed, etc., she said.
“But at the end we ended up with a better access point to the courthouse,” Mumby said.
The jury assembly room in the courthouse’s sub-basement, where the law library was, opened on April 22. It includes a technology bar with wi-fi and device charging stations, a kitchenette with a refrigerator and microwave, seating for up to 150 people, a reading area and 10 televisions for viewing court juror orientation information and cable TV programming.
The former space held just 62 people, Circuit Court Administrative Judge Angela Eaves said.
“This means now that more than one trial at a time can move forward,” Eaves said. “The more citizens you can bring in, the more jury trials you can have in any given day.”
The court was sending 120 summons for jury service a day, with a return of 50 to 70 people, and “we hope we could fit everybody in the assembly room,” Eaves said.
With the larger space, the court is sending out about 200 jury duty notices and everyone who responds can be accommodated, she said.
Adjacent to the former jury assembly space on the third floor was the office of the register of wills, which moved to 18 Office St. last year, according to Eaves.
The entire vacant space will become a new courtroom for one of the other five judges and his or her staff, Eaves said.
The courthouse has four courtrooms that can accommodate a jury and two others used for hearings and non-jury cases, she said.
Eaves’ office is on the second floor and does not have an assigned courtroom. She will use one of the two smaller, non-jury rooms, or one of the jury courtrooms where a trial isn’t going on, she said.
Who will move into the new chambers is a mystery, Eaves said. The courtrooms are assigned by seniority. Judge Elizabeth Bowen, who is in the ceremonial courtroom, is the senior judge, followed by judges Yolanda Curtin, Kevin Mahoney, Paul Ishak and Diane Adkins-Tobin.
If Bowen declines the courtroom, the option goes to Curtin, then Mahoney and down the line, Eaves said.
Adkins-Tobin, elected in November, does not have an assigned courtroom; her chambers are on the second floor.
The ceremonial courtroom is also used for jury selection, Eaves said, though she is trying to be able to accommodate it in the jury assembly room.
It is not equipped with the recording equipment necessary to do that, but she is working with the state to get the equipment not just for the jury assembly room, but also the other jury rooms and grand jury room, she said.