Stanislaus County OKs remodeling building for new coroner’s facility

08/12/2014 5:36 PM

08/12/2014 6:38 PM

Officials promised that a new Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office facility will have more space for autopsies and be equipped for a multiple-casualty disaster.

County supervisors approved the plans Tuesday to remodel a former postal encoding center at County Center III, near Oakdale Road and Scenic Drive, for a new morgue. The Sheriff’s Department is eager to move the Coroner’s Office from a cramped and outdated facility built at the same county center in 1978.

The county will renovate about 80 percent of the 25,720-square-foot building, across the parking lot from the current office, leaving 5,420 square feet for growth.

Plans for the new morgue include a lab, autopsy stations, observation platform for investigators to observe autopsies, coolers and deputy workstations. A lobby, secure reception area and family counseling rooms should provide better public access at the new facility, officials said.

County supervisors also were assured the facility won’t have the ventilation problems that have plagued the old morgue. The 2011 civil grand jury reported that odors and the sound of equipment in examination rooms drifted into public areas of the facility.

The grand jury said the morgue could handle the remains of only 20 people during a disaster. Staff members said Tuesday that at least three times that capacity should be available in the new facility.

An alternative feature for the remodel is a garage expansion for removing evidence from vehicles. A contractor could expand the garage if it’s worked into the $5.9 million project budget. Plans include a suite for recovering donor organs for transplant operations. Sheriff-Coroner Adam Christianson said the Coroner’s Office will continue a partnership with a major organ donor network.

The vacant single-story structure was built in 1971 and housed a county welfare office before it was leased for the postal coding center. This year, engineers concluded no major structural modifications are needed before it is occupied again.

To pay for the remodel, the county will borrow $4.2 million from a tobacco endowment fund and use public facility fees, insurance proceeds from the Honor Farm fire in 2010 and savings from another project. Up to $488,000 in annual general fund contributions will repay the tobacco endowment over 20 years.

The county will consider bids from contractors and award the construction contract in the fall. The renovations are expected to be completed in summer of 2015.

The Coroner’s Office handles about 500 autopsies every year. It investigates the causes of death in homicides, accidents and other unexplained fatalities.

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