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City delays a courthouse roof replacement to focus on another

Baltimore plans to terminate a contract to replace the roof of one courthouse after discovering significant problems with another court building currently undergoing repairs.

The roof of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse was scheduled to be replaced based on its age, not its condition, according to Ryan Trout, a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of General Services. But that job will be put on hold so the city can focus on replacing the roof of Courthouse East, which turns out to need more work than anticipated, he said.

“Courthouse East needs the attention right now,” Trout said Tuesday.

The two courthouses are on either side of Calvert Street in downtown Baltimore.

Courthouse East opened in 1932 as a combined post office and U.S. District Court building. It currently houses the civil divisions of Baltimore City Circuit Court. The Mitchell courthouse opened in 1900 and is home to the criminal division of the circuit court.

Bambi Stevens, chief of major projects for the Department of General Services, said in an emailed statement that it was “in the city’s best interest” to postpone the Mitchell roof replacement given the problems at Courthouse East, which include leaks.

“At this time, we are focusing our attention on additional work necessary to ensure the Courthouse East roof is completely leak-free,” Stevens said.

The work on Courthouse East began after a notice to proceed was issued on Sept. 4, 2018, according to Trout. The Department of General Services is unsure if the contract will need to be extended, Trout said.

The Baltimore City Board of Estimates is being asked to approve a settlement agreement with a Baltimore contracting firm that was awarded the Mitchell Courthouse  job last year, according to a memorandum prepared for the spending panel, which will meet Wednesday.

No work had been done on the Mitchell roof and there is no penalty associated with canceling the contract, according to Trout.

The owner of SGK Contracting Inc., the contractor awarded the Mitchell Courthouse job, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Improvements to the Mitchell Courthouse included two new courtrooms and judge’s chambers, according to the Department of General Services, which is currently replacing the elevators in the building.

Replacement options

Structural issues at the Baltimore City Circuit Court buildings have led to increasing calls for new facilities.

Mitchell had to close for three weeks in 2016 following a fire in the basement that caused significant damage throughout the building, including smoke damage on three floors. Courthouse East had to be evacuated earlier this year after flooding resulted when a sink detached from the wall.

The Bar Association of Baltimore City called for new facilities last August in a monthly newsletter, describing the courthouses as “antiquated and obsolete, ill-equipped to handle the demands of a twenty-first century justice system.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority in 2011 recommended a new courthouse for criminal matters and major reconfigurations of both circuit court buildings. The stadium authority agreed to assist the court with relocation and renovations involving both circuit court buildings.

The stadium authority presented two primary scenarios for the court to consider in a February 2018 letter to Baltimore City Circuit Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson: a combined renovation and expansion at the current site or relocation to a location west of the current court complex.

Multiple firms that responded to a request for information estimated the cost of renovating and expanding the current courthouses at $500 million to more than $700 million, according to the letter. The project would be done in phases and would take more than five years, it said.

The second option, relocating to a renovated Metro West Tower, was estimated to cost between $375 and $245 million and to take 40 to 44 months. One of the companies that proposed the plan purchased the property through a subsidiary in 2016 for $7.1 million.

Pierson was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

In December, consulting firms delivered a report on alternative uses for the courthouse buildings to the stadium authority. Potential uses for both buildings include retail and office space, small boutique hotels, restaurants and education facilities.


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