Threat averted to downtown courthouse plan

March 06, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Lawmakers defeated a proposal Wednesday that could have resulted in Washington County District Court being moved out of downtown Hagerstown.

They agreed that the current plan to build quarters on West Antietam Street - considered important to local economic development - makes more sense than leasing space.

"What we are doing here is making a major investment that's going to serve the citizens of Hagerstown for a very long time," said District Court Chief Judge Martha F. Rasin.


Rasin spoke in opposition to a budget analyst's recommendation to scrap the $5.1 million project to construct the new court building at the site of the old Brandt Cabinet Works at 36 W. Antietam St.

The analyst recommended that the state instead lease space for the court, which now is located at 33 W. Washington St.

The analyst for the House Appropriations Committee said the state could lease a 27,000-square-foot building for $200,000. But city officials doubted the state could secure a lease at the estimated $7.40 per square foot.

Rasin argued that leasing is a problem because of the lack of available space in Hagerstown. The court facility will need extensive security systems and other features that are unique to a court, she said.

"For us to go in to rent space is not like anyone else coming in and renting space," Rasin told the committee's public safety and administration subcommittee.

That raised fears that the court could be moved from downtown. City officials have said the building could aid in the redevelopment of the first block of West Antietam Street.

"That's where we want it. It's an economic development thing for us," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, a member of the subcommittee.

Fortunately for local officials, the state Department of Budget and Management opposed the leasing idea. The subcommittee rejected the proposal.

"We want ways to save money, but this may be the wrong project," said Del. Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, who chairs the panel.

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