The new Howard County Courthouse is planned to come online in 2021. The planning for it has been going on for sometime and I have blog readers that have sent me photos of the courtroom mockups. When I saw these mockups I had questions about it so I reached out to Howard County Government and this is some information I learned from them:

My question: These mockups have been created over a few months time: the mockups were constructed, reviewed by our consultants and users, modified, and then reviewed again over the course of 2-3 months. Their primary use is to check that critical sight lines between the judges, jurors, defendants, prosecutors, and witnesses have been established in the design. The use of full size mockups is common practice in the design of courtrooms. In this sense they are similar to any other design tool, such as drawings and scale models, intended to facilitate design decisions.

My question: Cost for these mockups is in the neighborhood of $40,000: The mockups are included in the overall cost of the project. We don’t have a breakdown specifically indicating their cost. Unlike a typical construction project we are not paying invoices monthly which are calculated against a schedule of values of different job components. We are not making any payments until we make the milestone payment when the job is complete.

Additional questions included:

1. How long has the mockup process (build, buy and review) been going on? The process of construction, review and modification went on for 2-3 months. It is now complete.
2. How much money (estimated) has been spent on this process? The cost is part of the overall cost of construction. We don’t have a breakdown indicating the specific cost of the mockups.
3. Is this still ongoing or is the complete. If ongoing – for how long before decisions are made and how much more money and government staff time will be spent on this project? The mockup construction and review process is complete.
4. When is the groundbreaking for the new courthouse. This summer.
5. Is the estimate timeframe for the new courthouse to come online still summer of 2021? The county will take position of the courthouse on July 1, 2021.

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So over the past 2 or 3 months the “P3” contractors have been working with the judges and others in Howard County on these “mockups” of the new courtrooms.

According to the information from Howard County Government (see above) they are not tracking the cost of this work. I promise you the contractors are tracking this and the cost will come back to the government in the future.

We have not broken ground on the new courthouse yet…and will not until later this summer (sometime after June 1)…so it seems a bit early to be doing this work…but maybe that is just me.

In this day and age of very advanced CAD systems…seems odd to spend MONTHS on a physical buildout to do this evaluation to “check that critical sight lines between the judges, jurors, defendants, prosecutors, and witnesses have been established in the design”. I get it in 1990…but it is 2019…this can’t be done in a better way today? Also 2 to 3 months to do this evaluation…just wow.

The new courthouse does not come online until 2021…and if our local government is not tracking the costs…does that concern you…it does me. The feedback above is scary:

“The mockups are included in the overall cost of the project. We don’t have a breakdown specifically indicating their cost. Unlike a typical construction project we are not paying invoices monthly which are calculated against a schedule of values of different job components”

The County Executive’s team should know what funds are being spent…while they may not be making monthly invoices…this is still all taxpayer money and an accurate tracking and accounting for it should be happening (in my opinion). What happens when when we go over budget on this project (because that never happens…right).

I know many were not thrilled with this project being a P3 project…but even so…there needs to be significant oversight of this project. Courtrooms mockups before groundbreaking has happened and no accounting for the costs concerns me…and maybe should you as well.

The new courthouse is a project that will be on the radar of some people for years. We should all be concerned of the significant cost…especially if no tracking and accounting is going on during this project. I understand that a P3 project is different…but that does not mean that the details should be ignored…and if I get information in the future that the residents paying for this project need to know…I promise to write it up.

Scott E

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s not like this is the first courthouse built in the US. Couldn’t they borrow from existing courtrooms to identify the optimal layout and dimensions. Seems like that approach would be a lot cheaper. Instead they are approaching this as if they are building a palace. (Which may be what we end up paying for.)

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