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Courthouse Annex to be renovated

July 23, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Courthouse Annex will undergo a nearly $4.2 million renovation in August, a project that includes building another courtroom for a fifth Circuit Court judge.

The renovation also will increase the number of inmate holding cells, remove asbestos from the basement and first floor, upgrade the air conditioning system and fix a leaking foundation.

The County Commissioners hired Callas Contractors Inc. of Hagerstown on Tuesday to complete the $4.18 million project.

The annex building, which is connected to the courthouse at 95 W. Washington St., was built in 1963. It houses court offices, the Washington County Sheriff's Department's judicial offices, a courtroom and other offices.

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Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said the annex's Summit Avenue entrance might be shut down during repairs and that the alley that runs alongside the annex will be closed until the project is completed.

Dennis Weaver, clerk of Circuit Court, said Wednesday the main reason for the renovation is to create space for the additional judge.

The Maryland Judiciary has said a fifth Circuit Court judge is needed in Washington County because of increased caseloads, but the state hasn't had the money to hire one and there hasn't been any room for another judge, Weaver said.

"We definitely won't get one until there's courtroom space," Weaver said.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Washington County is in line to get the fifth judge in fiscal year 2006, which is about the time the annex renovations will be completed.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he thought the county should save the annex renovation money and put it toward building a new courthouse. He said the county would need a bigger courthouse within the next 20 years.

"We might be better off to build a new building for courts and courts only," Munson said. "It would save money in the long run."

Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said he mentioned building a new courthouse several years ago and "about got escorted out" of the commissioners meeting room.

The county has $3.8 million budgeted in its Capital Improvement Program for the $4.18 million renovation project. The county might have to borrow money to pay the remaining costs or use some of its general fund surplus.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he would prefer the county use surplus money to pay the difference instead of increasing borrowing.

The commissioners agreed to consider using money from the county's surplus toward the project.

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