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Renovations to create more room at Washington County Courthouse

March 06, 2002|BY KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Renovation work that will make space for a fifth Washington County Circuit judge and provide more holding cells for prisoners is expected to start in the fall, according to county Public Works Director Gary Rohrer.

An architect will be hired within the next 90 days, and the design stage of the $3.35 million project should take six months, he said.

In February, workers finished clearing out the rooms in the annex building where the treasurer and assessment offices were housed, Rohrer said. They are removing asbestos from the building, he said.

Four circuit judges are housed in the Washington County Courthouse and annex at the corner of Washington Street and Summit Avenue.

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The renovation work, which was requested by administrative Judge Frederick C. Wright, would provide space for a fifth judge, who is expected to be assigned to the court around the time the work is completed.

The work on the courthouse will be done in three stages over 15 months, according to preliminary blueprints from a space-needs assessment done by Bushey Feight Morin Architects of Hagerstown.

The first stage will focus on the basement, which will be gutted and renovated to hold about eight holding cells of varying sizes.

The sheriff's department now has four cells on the fourth floor and two in the basement.

The cells were included at the request of the Washington County Sheriff's Department to handle the volume of prisoners - as many as 30 on some days.

"It's been overcrowded at times," said Lt. Robert Hafer, commander of the courthouse judicial division.

More cells are needed because men and women must be housed separately and children can't be held within sight or sound of adults, Hafer said.

Hafer said the sheriff's department also likes to keep state prisoners away from other prisoners if possible.

Space is particularly tight when criminal court is held on Wednesdays, which is the regularly scheduled day for juvenile court, he said.

Phase one is expected to take nine months, according to Bushey Feight Morin.

Phase two includes the first floor to the annex, in which a new, handicapped-accessible elevator will be installed. A public-access law library will be moved to the first floor.

That phase of the project should take three months.

The final stage, for which three months was also allotted, includes renovating the second floor to accommodate the fifth judge.

The renovation plans also include money for a more efficient filing system and dumbwaiter for the Clerk of Courts office, and a video monitor system and upgraded metal detector for sheriff's deputies.

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