Howard County justice moved into the 21st century from the 1850s Tuesday with the official opening of a new $120 million-plus courthouse built with a public-private partnership.
There were congratulations all-around as the Leeds Gold 238,000-square-foot building arrived on time and on budget, replacing the landmark courthouse first built when it held hearings on runaway slaves.
The new building is large enough to house all the court functions, including the clerks, prosecutors, library, and sheriffs, with extra courtrooms to spare.
Former administrative Circuit Court Judge Lenore Gelfman had pestered state and county officials for years to replace the cramped stone building, as Maryland’s Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera reminded the crowd of about 150.
Gelfman herself described the drawn-out search for an appropriate site. It wound just north of Route 108 and east of Route 29 on the southern edge of Ellicott City in what was once a huge Bendix Field Engineering building later bought by the county.
Then County Executive Allan Kittleman signed the contract for the new building. The only County Council member who opposed it was Calvin Ball.
Ball wound up presiding over its construction as the new county executive after he defeated Kittleman in 2018.
According to the county, more than 2,000 workers and 100 companies were involved in the two-year construction project. Overall, $117 million in contracts were awarded to Maryland-based firms, $22 million in contracts were awarded to Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) firms, and $19 million in contracts were awarded to Howard County-based firms.
Residents and lawyers used to the free surface parking lot at the old building on the Ellicott City hilltop might be surprised to find that there is paid parking in the six-story garage next to the courthouse.
The courthouse features a four-story atrium with open balconies. The shiny new edifice is a bland modern design colored in various tones of white, gray, and black.
The atrium also contains a four-story wall sculpture and a quote attributed to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. While King often used those words, he was actually quoting the Old Testament prophet Amos (Amos 5:24).
“Let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”