By Derek Simmonsen
The George Howard Building in Ellicott City is first on the renovation list. The renovation there will take about a year and during that time, employees will work out of office space in Columbia.
Future renovations are planned for the Dorsey Building in the Ellicott City area and the Gateway Building in east Columbia, Department of Public Works Director James Irvin said.
"It should be pretty much business as usual, and hopefully the public won't get inconvenienced at all," Irvin said of the temporary moves. "It's our goal to keep things as seamless as we can."
Although some employees began moving this week, most of the offices that deal directly with the public will not move until the end of October, Irvin said.
County Council Chairwoman Courtney Watson called the move a "necessary evil.
"It's going to be tough for people to find us or know where we are," she said. "But it's only temporary, and we can do anything for a year."
Watson said she and some other council members might not be in the office as much because driving to Columbia would be a longer commute. However, she said she would remain in touch with her office, perhaps by telecommuting more.
This is the first major renovation to the roughly 30-year-old Howard Building, Irvin said, and will include a full overhaul of the exterior and interior.
The overhaul will include replacing walls and windows with more energy-efficient materials; putting in a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; updating the plumbing; and installing fire sprinklers; among other improvements.
The Banneker Room, where the County Council meets, will likely get upgrades to its ventilation and public announcement systems, and new microphones, he said.
Some employees may not end up in the exact same locations when they return to the Howard Building, Irvin said. Details on where everyone will be situated are still being worked out.
The $45-million price tag covers all phases of the plan, although money for renovating the Dorsey and Gateway buildings has not yet been set aside and would need to be included in the next county budget, Irvin said.
The County Council approved the money for the reorganization plan in May but not without controversy over the decision to purchase 15,000 square feet of space in the Meridian Square Building in the Oakland Mills Village Center. That space will not be used for at least two years, and it is not yet certain what offices would be housed there, Irvin said.
An earlier plan to upgrade offices in Ellicott City at a cost of more than $250 million was scrapped by County Executive Kenneth Ulman, who said buying the extra office space in Columbia was a less expensive alternative.
Still, some critics were unhappy with decentralizing government services by moving some offices to Columbia.