Bids on Stanislaus County morgue exceed budget

kcarlson@modbee.comJune 13, 2013 


County officials are rethinking a project to remodel the former Medical Arts Building for the coroner's facility. KEN CARLSON/


    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
    Recent stories written by Ken

Stanislaus County officials were chilled by the construction bids for a new morgue in downtown Modesto, but they are not putting a toe tag on the project yet.

Last week, the bids from four contractors to remodel the building at 17th and G streets for the coroner's office ranged from $5 million to more than $7 million. Those bids were in the celestial sphere compared with the county's construction budget of slightly less than $4 million.

"We have not given up hope, but we have a lot of work to do," said Patty Hill Thomas, assistant executive officer for the county.

Officials had hoped to reuse the county's former Medical Arts Building to avoid the cost of constructing a new coroner's facility to replace the outdated one on Oakdale Road. The total estimate for the plans and remodel was $4.9 million, less than half an estimate for new construction.

Hill Thomas said Thursday that staff members believe they can talk with contractors and simplify the design, so the extensive remodel can be done with available money. County leaders expect to see revised plans next month.

According to Hill Thomas, the contractors who bid had less confidence in the downtown building and thought the costs for reinforcing the structure were higher than the county's estimates. Other items were more expensive than what the county had envisioned.

"We are trying to reuse an old building," Hill Thomas said. "Remodels are always a challenge."

The downtown building once was a health center for expectant mothers and children, but it was closed during a restructuring of the county health clinics in 2006. After the county couldn't find a buyer for the property, it became an option for housing the coroner's office, which would move from its dismal 35-year-old quarters on Oakdale Road.

The remodel would put the coroner's facilities on the first and second floors, with the autopsy stations, lab and coolers on the ground level and a lobby, offices and break rooms upstairs. The first floor also would house a jail inmate video visitation center. Health Services Agency records would be stored in the basement.

Four of the seven construction companies that were pre-qualified earlier this year submitted bids for the remodel.

County Supervisor Terry Withrow said he still thinks a remodel can be done cheaper than a new building. "We are going to have to figure out a way to make it work, but we have to make it fit within our budget," he said.

Board Chairman Vito Chiesa said he didn't think the state-of-the-art designs for the coroner's facilities were too elaborate. A nationally recognized forensic architect was brought in to design the autopsy facilities.

"Typically, bids have been coming in under budget for our capital projects," Chiesa said. "One way or another, we are going to get it done."

Various critiques have concluded the current coroner facilities are inadequate and unable to handle a multiple-casualty disaster. Officials have talked of selling the county property on Oakdale Road after the coroner's office moves downtown.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or (209) 578-2321.

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