Howard County Circuit Courthouse - A Model for Turnkey Delivery Success

The new Howard County Circuit Courthouse, currently under construction, is being delivered on budget and on schedule as a result of extensive preparation between the County and its advisors, and a turnkey delivery team with the expertise to execute the project in coordination with the public sector.

Turnkey delivery strategies are most successful when the public and private sector partners create an environment for effective collaboration. The public sector or institutional partner plays a unique and important role establishing the framework around which effective collaboration can occur. By combining the right resources with the right procedures,the turnkey design process can be both a productive and a rewarding experience for all the project partners. In this regard the new Howard County Circuit Courthouse provides an exemplary model to follow. The new 237,000 square-foot Circuit Courthouse will include space for the State’s Attorney, Sheriff, local Bar Association,Maryland Public Defender, Clerk of Courts, and more. The project also includes a cafeteria and staff fitness center, as well as an adjacent 691-space parking garage.

For their new Circuit Courthouse, Howard County chose a comprehensive turnkey delivery model known as a design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) contract.  During the design process both the public and private sector partners effectively collaborated over a ten-month period to initiate and complete the design of the courthouse. Despite the 100% turnover of the key elected officials involved in the project during this period there were no cost increases or delays experienced by the project. This outcome can be attributed to four steps taken by the County to ensure the right resources and procedures were in place to allow effective collaboration with the private sector partners.

Cohesive Collaborators

How did Howard County help create this impressive result? First, the County brought an internal management team with the design and construction knowledge needed to be effective collaborators during the design process. This included senior level managers from both the County Public Works Department, important project stakeholders, and the County Executive political leadership. This internal County group was supplemented by an outside technical support team. As a result, the County could both effectively engage with the turnkey delivery team and make informed decisions quickly.

Engaged Advisors

The role of the County’s outside technical support team was critical to effectively advancing the design. The team of technical advisors involved in drafting the project procurement documents,including the initial building program, remained engaged by the County through the design process.  These advisors participated in design review meetings with the future building occupants and performed periodic design reviews to verify compliance with the project requirements. This allowed the turnkey delivery team to quickly advance the design while providing the County assurance the design was evolving to meet their program requirements.

Design Fine Tuning

Early in the design process County political elections resulted in significant leadership changes and introduced anew group of project stakeholders with new requirements. To accommodate the requirements of the new project stakeholders the project leadership overseeing the project informally agreed that new program changes requested by the new project stakeholders could be accommodated if they were cost neutral or could be offset with other changes to maintain cost neutrality. This process was called “Design Fine Tuning” and was managed by the turnkey delivery team in partnership with the County’s technical advisory team responsible for drafting the project requirements and program. Through the “Design Fine Tuning” process over 300 design changes requested by the new project stakeholders were accommodated with no change to the project cost or schedule. This outcome could only have been achieved through the effective partnership formed at the outset of the project between the turnkey delivery team and the County as collaborators supported by a team of engaged advisors.

Permitting Previews

While the “Design Fine Tuning” process allowed the needs of the new project stakeholders to be seamlessly integrated into the design, the County also created a process that allowed the agencies responsible for permitting to effectively engage with the turnkey delivery team. All permit submissions went through a special pre-submission review where comments and suggestions were made early in the design process by all the public sector agencies responsible for permitting the project. These agency comments were then reviewed face-to-face with the turnkey delivery team which set an agreed upon resolution in the design going forward. Through this process there were no surprises during the formal permit review process which proceeded quickly with no unexpected changes.


The new Howard County Circuit Courthouse project demonstrates the practical steps public sector agencies and institutions can take to implement an effective turnkey delivery for an important public or institutional facility. A successful and rewarding project delivery experience can occur when the right people and support resources are ready to engage effectively with the turnkey delivery team.  Maintaining continuity through the procurement and design process with the advisors originally tasked with establishing the program allows “Design Fine Tuning” to occur with the active involvement of the project stakeholders. Proactively setting in place an early permit review process with opportunities for interaction with the key permitting authorities allows the design to advance quickly and confidently. Collectively, these actions demonstrate how to achieve the superior value possible through comprehensive turnkey delivery strategies.