Acknowledging there are problems in its existing morgue and autopsy facility, the Volusia County Council unanimously agreed Feb. 2 to build a newer and bigger building.
“This is our No. 1 capital project,” County Manager George Recktenwald told the council, highlighting the need to replace the 25-year-old medical examiner’s building on Indian Lake Road in Daytona Beach.
The council agreed to hire an architectural firm to design an 18,200-square-foot complex — nearly three times larger than the one now in use — for investigating the causes and circumstances of deaths and preserving corpses. The new medical examiner’s facility will be located on a 2.7-acre plot off Tiger Bay Road. The estimated total cost of the building is $13 million.
SchenkelShultz Architecture, of Orlando, will be paid $993,000 to design the new facility.
“When the plans are done, we’ll turn them over to the general contractor and say, ‘Give us your best price,’” County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer said, adding the prospective builder is Wharton-Smith Inc. Construction Group.
When finished in about two years, the new building will feature an abundance of space for administration, clinical examinations, laboratories and storage, county officials noted.
The need for a newer medical examiner’s center follows from a comparison of the facility with the accreditation standards of the National Association ofMedical Examiners. The county’s current medical examiner’s building fails to meet at least 13 standards set by the professional organization.
Deficiencies include a lack of office space, not shielding the receiving of bodies from public view, and not preventing visitors and staff from seeing, hearing or smelling the effects of the forensic activities.
“Are public access areas comfortable, clean and free from odor?” is one of the questions on the accreditation checklist.
The answer is N, for no, and it appears highlighted in red.
“When we get the new building, we can apply for accreditation that day. We’ll be prepared. I promise that,” County Medical Examiner Dr. James Fulcher said. “The executive summary is, we don’t have enough space.”
“My autopsy suite is a little unsafe, because it’s too small. We’re handling sharp objects that are probably covered with infectious diseases all the time. We need more space in the autopsy suite to be safe,” he continued.
The new building, officials say, will have sufficient space for expansion in the years ahead, as the region’s population increases and the need for in-depth death investigations rises. Fulcher said he and his staff performed 681 autopsies during the county’s 2019-20 fiscal year. That was up markedly from the 561 autopsies performed in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Fulcher said the new facility, when completed, will be fitted for future expansion, including the ability to add mobile coolers, if needed.
Should the need arise, the new medical examiner’s center “will be capable of handling mass-casualty events,” such as natural or man-made disasters, Kasbeer said. He noted the facility will likely satisfy the county’s needs until 2052.
“We do look at the opportunity to expand at that point in time,” Kasbeer said.
Moreover, a scope-of-work summary notes part of the future ME building “shall be a hardened design for resistance to winds greater than 200 MPH and large missile impact.”
County Chair Jeff Brower acknowledged the need for a more spacious building for the medical examiner and his team.
“This is one of those things that the public does not think about most of the time, but there is a need there,” he concluded.