Howard courthouse cramped but the solution is uncertain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With nearly half of the county's legislative delegation trailing behind him yesterday morning, Howard Circuit Court Administrator John Shatto moved through the perennially cramped courthouse, pointing out the building's inadequacies along the way.

Jury and master's hearing rooms are too few. A fifth courtroom is too small.

"This is our tour of woe," he said as the group walked from the sheriff's office to the register of wills and court clerk's spaces.

By the time they were done, state legislators said they were impressed with the courthouse needs, but wondered if building an addition - an option suggested by a 2-year-old study - makes fiscal sense given the eventual need for a new multimillion-dollar courthouse.

"I am concerned. ... Are we looking at the best use of taxpayer money?" said Del. Gail H. Bates, a Republican. "Are we looking far enough into the future?"

The legislators were at the courthouse courtesy of a series of tours set up by Democratic Del. Frank S. Turner, the House delegation chairman, so he and his colleagues could see first-hand the realities behind the budget requests they are asked to consider.

Legislators have visited Cedar Lane School in Columbia, a school for profoundly disabled students that hopes to relocate, and the planned public safety training center, a facility some county Republicans have opposed.

The courthouse tour occurred several months after the county delegation turned down a bond request for $400,000 to help pay for an immediate renovation and a later addition to the building. The delegation expressed concerns that it would be redundant to spend the money when a new courthouse would be needed in about a decade.

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