Classic design for new courts; Westminster site formerly housed a day care center; Completion in 2002; The state project has a price tag of $7.6 million


Carroll County's new District Court building will be classic brick with four white columns, arched dormer windows and a cupola, according to plans filed with the city of Westminster.

The 1.5-acre site at Court Street and Greenwood Avenue was cleared last year of two buildings, which had housed a day care center and real estate office, and is ready for groundbreaking, local officials said.

Although construction was expected to begin this summer, work will not begin before fall, according to Dave Humphrey, communications director for the Maryland Department of General Services.

The $7.6 million state project is in the design phase, to be completed in July, he said. The department will solicit bids from contractors in August, to be sent to the Board of Public Works for approval of the award in October.

Construction is expected to take 18 months, until about spring 2002, he said.

The building will house two district courtrooms, public defenders, court commissioners, juvenile justice, parole and probation, and other offices. Current District Court space is leased by the state in the county's Courthouse Annex building, next to the site on Court Street. That space is to become a third Circuit Court courtroom. The county's third Circuit Court judge now hears cases in the historic courthouse.

"They definitely need this building," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works.

Plans were provided to the city of Westminster as a courtesy, he said, because the project is exempt from requiring city approvals.

Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., the county's administrative judge and a veteran of the state legislature who has fought to keep the project on track, has sketches of the building in his chambers.

"It's taken me eight years to get this done," Beck said. "It will really provide much-needed, long-needed space for these agencies."

Based on demographics and statistics, he said, Carroll could show the need for a fourth judge in the Circuit Court, where serious crimes are tried. The historic courtroom, with its lesser security, would not be used for high-profile cases.

Beck hasn't asked for another judge, because the three judges are "working smart," he said.

"I've never believed in crisis management. I don't want to have need of one -- a fourth judge -- and then have to go find space."

The small site presented challenges to architects trying to fit a large building there, according to officials of HLM Design of Bethesda, who met last summer with the State Architectural Review Board. Some board members were cool toward the original design, with a two-tone brick fade and a protruding pavilion as an entrance.

The courthouse project will take over the parking lot used by the Carroll County school offices, according to the plans.

Carroll County Director of Public Works J. Michael Evans said the schools' parking will be moved for the foreseeable future to a nearby property known as the old Roadway. The county acquired the 2 1/2-acre parcel several years ago because of its prime location near the courthouse and other county buildings.

The Roadway property has no road frontage but will be located on the new Ralph Street extension, Evans said.

That 0.2-mile connection between Route 140 and Greenwood Avenue would provide direct access from Route 140 to the courthouses, the jail, school offices and the county building, and it is expected to reduce the backup of left-turning vehicles at the Center Street intersection.

The little piece of road needs a few weeks' work, Evans said. Sidewalks, curbs and drains are in place, a large culvert channels Longwell Branch, and the road has been graded to reduce a 30-foot drop in elevation -- the most expensive part of the $1 million project.

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