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New Anne Arundel courtroom comes with 'frugal' price tag

The ceiling will be lower, the woodwork will be cheaper and the entire room will be narrower.

But considering the new courtroom under construction at the county courthouse in downtown Annapolis will cost about 8 percent of what county officials expected last year — only $100,000 as opposed to $1.2 million — no one seems to mind that a few corners were cut.

"I'm just pleased as punch," said Circuit Court Administrator Robert G. Wallace.

“I think it is going to look really nice,” said Judge Laura S. Kiessling, who was appointed with Ronald H. Jarashow to the county Circuit Court bench and will eventually hear the bulk of her cases in the new courtroom.

“And I think given the state of our economy this is the right way to do it,” she said. Plans for the courtroom — the building's 11th — were put in place last year shortly after Gov. Martin O'Malley approved the addition of a new position on the county Circuit Court bench.

Wallace and Circuit Court Judge Nancy L. Davis-Loomis, the court's administrative judge, said it would be too hard for the court's staff to juggle 12 judges and 10 courtrooms. Another courtroom was necessary, they said.

County Executive John R. Leopold, however, balked at the courtroom's $1.2 million price tag, Budget Officer John Hammond said. He ordered it be built for no more than $100,000.

The price cap pushed Wallace and other county staffers to adopt a much simpler, smaller design.

“We are being very frugal,” said Wallace, noting that the county is using its own maintenance staff to convert a training room for the county Sheriff's Office on the second floor of the courthouse into a working courtroom.

To save money, Wallace decided against raising the ceiling about 5 feet and moving one wall over about 6 feet to match the rest of the courtrooms in the building.

“That alone will save us a couple hundred thousand dollars,” he said.

To further save money, the county is scavenging benches, furniture and building materials from elsewhere in the courthouse and using stained plywood to construct the judge's bench, jury box and gallery railing.

The Anne Arundel County Bar Foundation also is donating the tables to be used by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the courtroom. The slate for the courtroom's baseboards was left over from when the courthouse was built about 15 years ago.

“We've cut a lot of corners,” Wallace said, noting that they didn't even buy a new county seal to hang on the wall above Kiessling's bench.

Instead, they plan to use a glass square Wallace received as a sample before he ordered seals for the courthouse's other 11 courtrooms. It has been sitting in his office for more than a decade, he said.

“We have recycled a lot,” laughed Davis-Loomis.

Kiessling, a prosecutor with the county for about 19 years, expects to handle primarily juvenile and family law cases.

Jarashow is a partner in a civil and criminal defense practice with offices in Annapolis and Baltimore and has about 35 years experience. He said he didn't know what types of cases he would handle.

While the record snowfall this past month has slowed construction of the courtroom — the floor is bare concrete, the walls need paint and the furniture is still scattered around the building — Wallace said he expects it to be ready by the time it is needed early next month.

“The snow threw us off a little bit, but we are in good shape,” he said, praising the work of the county's Facilities Maintenance Division. “They are real craftsmen.”

-- The Capital of Annapolis

By Washington Post Editors  |  March 8, 2010; 7:11 AM ET
Categories:  Anne Arundel , From the Courthouse  
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Comments

If you can cut 92% of your intial budget, it just shows what monumental government waste exists.

Posted by: reiflame1 | March 8, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

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