Prince George's Courthouse Renovation Completed after 2004 Fire

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nearly 3 1/2 years after a fire devastated the historic facade of the Prince George's County courthouse, county and state officials unveiled a section of the building last week, renovated at a cost of $55 million.

More than a dozen officials gathered for the dedication of the Duvall wing: four refurbished floors that feature seven courtrooms, six judges' chambers and new office space for the state's attorney's office, court reporters and the clerk of the Circuit Court.

"It's fantastic!" Circuit Court Judge Dwight D. Jackson said of his new chambers, which include a spacious main office with elegant wooden bookcases built into the walls.

After an hour-long ceremony on a portable stage in front of the wing, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Then, Circuit Court Judge Sheila R. Tillerson-Adams, who headed a committee that oversaw the renovation, pressed a button, and the sound of a bell tolling, signifying the start of a court day, rang out two dozen times. Many of the approximately 300 people in attendance applauded and then streamed inside for a tour.

Tillerson-Adams described the wing as "absolutely wonderful."

"This building does so much for the town of Upper Marlboro," she said. "It's a symbol of justice."

The courtrooms will open for business early next month, officials said.

In addition to the courtrooms and administrative space, the wing will house civil case files, which in recent years have been kept at an annex across the street. The new space also has a child-care center for family members of people involved in trials. It will serve up to 20 children, ages 3 through 12, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., officials said.

The Duvall wing's reopening has been a long time coming. On Nov. 3, 2004, a wind-driven fire ravaged the interior and large sections of the roof. The fire interrupted renovations that had begun in May 2003. Except for construction workers, the building was mostly empty at the time, and no serious injuries were reported.

During last Thursday's ceremony, officials praised the work of the firefighters who extinguished the fire. Investigators traced the cause to faulty electrical wiring that was being used in the renovation.

At the time of the fire, new carpet had been put down, and much of a new ceiling had been installed. The $55 million tally for the renovation included the costs of rebuilding after the fire, said John Erzen, a county spokesman.

Other dignitaries who celebrated the dedication included Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) and William D. Missouri, chief administrative judge of the Circuit Court in Prince George's.

The courthouse is an integral part of Prince George's history. It dates to 1881, when Upper Marlboro was a rural tobacco town. A number of renovations and additions were made through the years. In 1991, the sprawling Marbury and Bourne wings were added at a cost of $80 million.

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