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The Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office is getting an upgrade.

In May, the department will be moved to a newly renovated building that is 22 years younger and provides more than twice the amount of usable space, allowing ample room for work, storage and much-needed new equipment.

“The building has served its purpose over the years, but as technology and the demands for increased forensics have occurred, we have needed a new space both to keep up with the demand and the technology needed,” said deputy county manager Marie Peoples.

The additional space will allow the department to take on more interns and become more of a teaching facility, Peoples added.

The original budget for the project – including property acquisition and renovation – was $3.45 million; on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved an additional award of more than $170,000 for the purchase of new equipment and surgical lights. Equipment that is still within its lifetime will be transferred to the new facility upon completion.

The new facility is located at 4402 E. Huntington Drive in an 8,278-square-foot warehouse space purchased for nearly $870,000.

“This building had really good bones,” said Sue Brown, Coconino County Facilities Director. “It’s allowed us to move faster and avoid excessive costs.”

Renovations began in September and are scheduled to be completed by the end of April.

In the months prior to construction, county representatives visited similar facilities in both Yavapai and Maricopa counties for inspiration. This extensive research has resulted in a design that emphasizes increased privacy, performance and peace for both employees and visitors.

The facility adheres to county sustainable building requirements and features increased amounts of natural lighting throughout the building, as well as an additional 1,786 square feet of storage space for the county.

An expanded autopsy suite will hold not one, but two separate tables to allow each of the pathologists to work simultaneously. They will each have office spaces as well.

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A cooler space will be able to house up to 33 decedents – compared to only eight at the current facility – and will be supplemented by ventilated cabinets for tissue storage. Administrative spaces, such as conference rooms for meetings and trainings, have also been added, as well as visitor restrooms and showers for employees. A fully enclosed delivery area, paired with the facility’s more remote location, will allow for discrete deliveries to protect the privacy of decedents and their families.

Most notably, though, is the inclusion of separate rest spaces for employees and visitors. A storefront window was installed facing a small porch where employees can step outside to take a break and get some sunshine. Brown says working at the Medical Examiner’s Office is a difficult job that the current staff does well, so the county wanted to provide a better work environment for them in this way.

Employees are not the only ones at the facility in need of peace, though. No matter the reason, it can be a difficult place to approach. Consequently, the county hopes to create a sort of garden retreat featuring natural elements and local art. Brown said the cultural and situational sensitivity will be paramount in this particular design.

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“It’s going to be really tranquil, something that’s harmonious and natural because I think that’s healing for a lot of people,” Brown said. “It’s designed for the people who are coming here at the worst times of their lives.”

Like most medical facilities, ventilation and filtration play key roles in the building’s design because they help eliminate the spread of infectious diseases and odors associated with the industry, said Owen Modjeski, County Construction Manager. The facility will be physically secure and have a HEPA and charcoal filtration system.

“All the air that we are pushing from the facility is clean air,” Modjeski said.

In addition, the building is also designed to promote a cascade effect of air pressure, where administrative areas with a positive pressure space will lead down to the autopsy suite, which will have the lowest pressure. According to the American Society for Health Care Engineering, negative pressure helps contain airborne contaminants.

County wellbeing – often measured by data the Medical Examiner’s Office provides – has been the goal throughout the project and will continue to be a crucial component of this department.

“Our goal is to have a state-of-the-art facility that allows us to complete the mission of the Medical Examiner in a place that has the technology needed to do it,” Brown said.

The county will host an open house for the public following construction completion in late April. Normal operations will begin the following month.

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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