Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman will use an innovative system of financing to replace the old courthouse in Ellicott City with a modern $139 million building in Columbia. He will finance the project using a public-private partnership (P3) approach in which the County and the private sector will share costs.
It will be the first P3 project in Maryland to fund a courthouse and will save Howard County taxpayers $24 million.
The proposed partnership is “the most efficient and effective way to deliver a modern facility at the best value to our taxpayers in the long run,” Kittleman said.
The current courthouse was last renovated in the mid-1980s. Steep costs and other obstacles have deterred previous administrations from delivering a viable solution to the aging structure.
A P3 approach will allow the County to share risks and costs with the private sector, which would cover the courthouse’s operational and maintenance costs. The arrangement provides “a faster and guaranteed way” to build and maintain the building over 30 years, said Howard County Budget Director Holly Sun.
The customary approach to funding this type of project would require the County to issue bonds for the construction of the courthouse and hire companies to handle design, constructions and maintenance through individual competitive bid contracts. In a P3 approach, the Howard County would sign a 30-year contract with a private group of consultants, who would fulfill these tasks.
This hybrid P3 project will cost $24 million less than a traditional bond-issue approach. Kittleman’s office also considered pursuing a complete P3 approach, which would be managed entirely by the private sector, but this approach would cost $15 million more than the bond-issue approach, according to Sun.
The County will build the new courthouse on county-owned land on Bendix Road in Columbia, which currently accommodates several government offices. The project would include a 227,000-square-foot courthouse and a 600-space parking garage. It would provide eight courtrooms, three more than the Ellicott City courthouse.
If the Howard County Council approves Kittleman’s plan in March, the complex would be on schedule to open by mid-2021.