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District Court building project back on track

March 20, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

District Court building project back on track

ANNAPOLIS - A Maryland Senate panel rejected Friday a proposal that would have delayed construction on Washington County's new District Court building until spring 2000, a year later than planned.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's capital budget subcommittee voted unanimously to keep the project on schedule to begin in April 1999.

"I'm really incredibly pleased with this," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, a member of the subcommittee.

But Munson said the same panel also turned down his proposal to have the Maryland Stadium Authority pay for a $35,000 feasibility study of the possibility of opening a convention center in Washington County.

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The subcommittee decided 6-1, with Munson voting in opposition, to require that strictly local money be used for numerous requests for Stadium Authority money from local governments throughout the state, he said.

"If the state had funded one of them, it would have had to fund all of them," he said.

Kathleen Hynes, chairwoman of the convention center task force, said the subcommittee's decision is not a fatal blow to the project.

"I don't think it axes it. I don't think it's a prohibitive step," she said.

The task force has been considering a site a half block west of Public Square, behind the North Potomac Street Parking Deck, for a 3,000-seat convention center.

Hynes said she will now meet with city officials and others to see what other means there are to fund the study.

The District Court project had been threatened to be delayed after a Maryland Department of Legislative Services analyst suggested waiting to begin the project until the fiscal year that begins July 1, 1999.

The delay was suggested so the state could put off spending the money until the next budget year, a state official said.

But in that case, construction couldn't begin before September 1999, and more likely would have been put off until spring 2000, because of possible bad weather during the winter, the official said.

Also, if the funding was delayed a year it might have had to compete with three other courthouse projects that were expected to be funded at that time, Munson said.

Before Friday, Munson said he was "guardedly optimistic" the funding will come through in the fiscal year that begins this July 1, with construction staying on schedule for April 1999.

"I was optimistic, but I wasn't counting my chickens before they hatched," he said.

He said he appealed to the other subcommittee members on both the timing aspect and the fact that the courthouse project is considered important to downtown revitalization.

The new District Court will cost just under $6 million and be built on a 29,280-square-foot lot at 36 W. Antietam St. It will include two courtrooms and have space to add a third.

It will replace the existing District Court at 33 W. Washington St. Some court officials have said the existing quarters are too small, are uncomfortable and lack the facilities that modern courthouses have.

Both subcommittee decisions will likely be affirmed when the full Budget and Taxation Committee votes Monday, Munson said. The entire capital budget would then goes to the Senate for approval.

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