Judge urges OK of Annapolis courthouse design


Courthouse officials urged the Annapolis Historic District Commission last night to approve immediately a final design for a new 250,000-square-foot courthouse so that the county can move forward with its construction this summer.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner said that if the design is not approved now, construction money will not be set aside in the fiscal 1995 budget, which County Executive Robert R. Neall is already beginning to draft. Fiscal 1995 begins July 1.

Without the county's financial commitment this year, the new courthouse probably will never be built, Judge Lerner said.

Mr. Neall has said he will not run for re-election, and his successor will not be bound to follow the plans for a courthouse, the judge said.

Security at the existing courthouse is woefully outdated, said Judge Lerner, who recalled being trapped on an elevator with a prisoner who had slipped away from a holding area.

"It is very dangerous," he said. "It's a matter that has got to be taken care of immediately."

Judge Lerner's appeal during last night's public hearing on the courthouse design followed a request by the Historic Annapolis Foundation -- a private group dedicated to historic preservation -- to send the county back to the drawing board.

Sarah Flickens, an architectural consultant for Historic Annapolis, praised the county's effort but said minor refinements are still needed.

Specifically, she suggested the county's architects redraw the building's facades to more closely mimic the look of the townhouses that line the opposite side of the street and re-examine the use of long, uninterrupted cornices that give the building a long, massive look.

Ms. Flickens concerns were echoed by Jeff Halpern, a member of the Chesapeake Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

"I would hope that the Historic District Commission would not be herded into a quick decision," Mr. Halpern said.

In addition to Judge Lerner, others urged a speedy approval as well.

Jerome W. Klasmeier, county director of central services, which manages public buildings, said he must have the commission's approval within four weeks.

"I'm dreaming of a Historic District Commission approval in my Christmas stocking, but I realize that probably is not feasible," Mr. Klasmeier said.

Sheriff Robert Pepersack, who provides courthouse security, said the county's design "fits the bill for me because I know I can keep you safe in that courthouse."

About 70,000 people visit the existing courthouse every year, including about 5,000 prisoners, the sheriff said.

"Unless we get the go-ahead signal and get it now, we're never going to get it," Judge Lerner said.

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