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Orange County

County Opens Up-to-Date Coroner's Center

June 11, 2004|Kevin Pang | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County coroner's office has a new, $14-million home -- a substantial upgrade from a converted Mexican restaurant where autopsies had been performed for 2 1/2 years.

Several hundred residents and county officials attended the ceremonial opening in Santa Ana of the Orange County Coroner's Facility, a striking two-story structure of glass and steel.

During construction, coroner's officials moved their headquarters to a 10,000-square-foot former restaurant down the street. That makes their new 52,600-square-foot facility appear all the more grand.

"Sheer exhilaration," said Chief Deputy Coroner Jacque Berndt about the center. She said improved technology and a computerized record system could improve the department's efficiency by a third.

Guests toured the building, from the autopsy suite to the X-ray machine to the forensic anthropology room. Visitors were overheard mentioning "CSI," the popular television shows about crime scene investigators. No bodies were present, said forensic assistant Jay Simon, out of respect for the families.

Upstairs is the state's only coroner training facility, which has five classrooms and a scenario training room where crime scenes are re-created. Before the training center opened in March, coroner classes were held at hotels, Berndt said.

The facility, at Santa Ana Boulevard and Shelton Street, was slated to be completed by April 2003, but more than 40 changes were made to the plan during construction.

The delay cost the county $2 million in cost overruns, in addition to the $2 million it had already contributed to the project. The state provided a $10-million grant for construction.

According to an Orange County Grand Jury report, the delays were due to "the failure of the architect and structural, mechanical and electrical engineers to coordinate their plans and to adequately detail how items were to be built."

Officials said adjustments to the air conditioning and drainage system, in addition to the $8,400 monthly rent at the vacant restaurant, contributed to the $2-million overrun.

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