The front lobby of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Bel Air will be closed for about six weeks as renovations begin of the first floor and basement, the second phase of a overhaul of the building that was last renovated in 1963.
The project is about a month ahead of schedule and on track to hit its $4 million budget, according to Maj. Daniel Galbraith, chief of the services and support bureau of the Sheriff’s Office, who is overseeing the renovation during which just about everything will be replaced. Only the shell of the building, the elevator and stairwell will remain, and it will have brand new electrical wiring, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment.
“It was to the point we couldn’t do additional electrical work because we couldn’t get permits,” Galbraith said. “It’s just a mess down there.”
Some of the water pipes were so old someone could put a finger through them, he said.
The building was at one time home to the entire county government operation, Galbraith said. The back was the Sheriff’s Office, the front was the county administration with the county commissioners, the district court on the first floor, the treasure on the second floor and water and sewer on the third floor. In the basement was the telephone switchboard before the mainframe computer. The former jail was removed about five years ago.
The second and third floors are 99 percent finished and furniture has been delivered, said Galbraith, who promised Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler the renovation would be completed by mid-April, though the contractor has until mid-May to finish. An open house so the public can see the renovated building will be scheduled for the spring.
While the first floor is under construction, the main lobby will be closed. During business hours, Sheriff’s Office customers can go to the temporary headquarters in the lower level of 101 S. Main St. After business hours, a temporary lobby has been set up around the right side of the building in a stairwell between the first floor and basement, where a duty officer will remain while booth in the lobby is re-done, Galbraith said.
“We have to do it for the safety of our workers and the public that comes in,” he said, as contractors are continuously moving from one floor to the other.
The drug drop-off box will also be unavailable until the lobby re-opens, Galbraith said. Anyone who needs to drop off unused medication can do it at the Northern or Southern Precinct, the Bel Air Police Department or Maryland State Police Bel Air Barrack.
One of the biggest hurdles that wasn’t planned as part of the project, was removal of the county’s mainframe computer from the basement to the Department of Emergency Services building in Hickory, which no one thought would ever move, Galbraith said.
“It was a task so huge no one wanted to entertain the thought of moving it,” he said. “But it needed to be moved.”
The main frame was loaded Saturday onto the Sheriff’s Office elevator with a quarter-inch of room to spare then loaded onto a truck parked in one lane of Main Street and taken to its new home.
It was up and running at the 911 Center on Tuesday, Galbraith said.
Demolition of the first floor and basement — tearing out walls, flooring, ceiling tiles and electrical equipment — began Monday and is expected to take about two weeks, he said.
All the non-hazardous materials were being removed early in the week and will resume once the non-hazardous items — light bulbs, ballasts, floor tiles and the glue under them — are removed later this week, Galbraith said.
The second phase will move along much more quickly than the first, since much of the plumbing, HVAC and electrical infrastructure were put in place during the first phase.
“They’re ready to just feed it down,” Galbraith said.
The remodeled headquarters will include a fitness center in the basement, a large lunchroom with a kitchen and a meeting room available for use by the public and a restroom in the lobby, he said.
The sheriff’s office, which was on the second floor in the middle, has moved to the third floor and farther in the back.
Gahler proudly showed off the nearly completed second and third floors two weeks ago and said he couldn’t wait to get into the new space.