EAGLEVILLE, PA - Montgomery County today celebrated the opening of its new contemporary coroner’s office building. The new facility represents a significant upgrade from the space the County had rented since the mid-1990s. The $9.5 million state-of-the-art structure covers nearly 22,000 square feet.
“This beautiful building is something that the residents of Montgomery County deserve. It represents the level of quality and expert design that they will be proud of,” said Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, as he joined other public officials in cutting the ribbon. “The purpose of this new facility is to not only provide the best examination facilities but also to make visitors, including grieving family members, as comfortable as possible. The fact that the building will pay for itself over the long term makes this move a complete win.”
The new facility on Eagleville Road near the County Emergency Operations Center offers a much more welcoming and attractive environment than the space the County had rented at the Human Services Center (HSC) in Norristown.
Commissioner Vice Chair Jamila H. Winder noted that the County’s growing population contributed to the need for more space and more sophisticated equipment.
“The building has a capacity over three times greater than the previous space and $3 million worth of state-of-the-art equipment,” she said. “That includes three autopsy suites, an x-ray room, a large walk-in cooler and freezer, and a well-equipped training room plus additional office space. One feature I especially appreciate is the special viewing room for family members and others.”
Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Michael Milbourne had been advocating for the new building since his arrival eight years ago.
“The old facility had small, narrow rooms, all on the ground floor, no windows, insufficient lighting, and a cloistered environment. The ventilation system wasn’t the best, so we had to contend with a really unpleasant smell at times throughout the office. It made for a less than optimal experience for employees who were working there, as well as for visitors,” he said. “Some of the facilities, which were previously for hospital use, were antiquated and didn’t give us the ability to perform the growing number of autopsies and provide the pathologists with the proper tools to perform their jobs. Now, we can teach and have students that can see and take part in the examinations.”
Before building the new facility, the County performed a budget analysis, which showed it would be more cost efficient to build rather than continue to rent space in HSC, formerly the Sacred Heart Hospital building. By reallocating the approximately $275,000 a year formerly spent on rent payments, plus anticipated increases, the County will pay itself back for the new building over the long-term.
The building’s capacity addresses the County’s growing population as well as the contingency of dealing with a mass casualty event like the COVID-19 outbreak, in which the County had to rent trailers to house the deceased. With space for up to 50 instead of 15, decedents can be appropriately stored until either someone picks them up or an appropriate disposition occurs.
The new building features increased security. “A person checks in before they come into the secure area. We can make sure that they have no firearms, and they must show ID,” Dr. Milbourne said. “Once they come in, there’s a library area where they can sit down and then a comfortable viewing room where we can bring the decedent in for identification or for them just to be able to have an ability to see the person.”
A glass separates the area where a visitor can view the body. The building also features a comfortable space where a deputy coroner can meet with families to view reports.
Unlike the former Coroner’s Office building, where staff had to receive bodies outside, regardless of the weather, the new building can receive the deceased in a private and enclosed portion of the facility.
Coroner’s cases come from multiple sources. Any homicide, found body, or overdose death becomes a case. Occasionally, an accidental death at an employee’s worksite becomes a case. If there is a suspicious death or someone dies at home for an unknown reason, that case goes to the Coroner’s Office. If a person dies within 48 hours of admission to a hospital and the cause of death has not been determined, then sometimes they become a coroner’s case.
First Deputy Coroner Alex Balacki noted that one other benefit of the new office building is the positive effect it will have on students considering going into medicine. “It’s an amazing feeling to show off our new facility and observe the reactions from students,” he said. “There is a great shortage in our field, and seeing this kind of workspace instead of our former space may help inspire the next generation of forensic pathologists. We have a robust internship program, and we think learning here will make the program more popular than ever.”
The project began with a needs assessment in 2016. Construction started in winter 2022 and finished in May 2023.
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