For the moment, the longtime Franklin County coroner’s office remains up and running on the edge of the Ohio State University campus, complete with its vintage lobby furniture and inefficient layout for death investigations.
About a year from now, though, Dr. Anahi Ortiz and her staff will move southwest of Downtown into a new office being built on Frank Road.
About seven months after a ceremonial groundbreaking, the $37 million project is taking shape — a welcome sight for county officials who perform autopsies.
“We’re operating in a 1970-ish-style building that really associates itself with the morgue rather than this new development that is really allowing us a stronger attachment to academia and the emergence of a forensic-science center that hasn’t existed in Franklin County,” said Matt Caudill, director of operations at the coroner’s office.
Randy Duncan, project executive with Corna Kokosing Construction Co. of Westerville and Elford Inc. of Columbus, the two firms involved in the construction of the new facility, said cold and wet —and sometimes unpredictable — winter weather hasn’t hampered progress. Work is on schedule, and officials are still anticipating a spring 2020 completion.
“We’re coming out of a tough winter right where we want to be,” Duncan said.
The site is just east of Route 62 and west of Interstate 71, the former location of Harmon Elementary School.
The county acquired the property through a land swap with the South-Western school district. The school building was demolished, and the district opened a new Harmon Elementary nearby on Frank Road.
The structural steel is now in place for the new county building, and concrete slabs will be poured in coming weeks on both floors. The center will have about 55,000 square feet, making it nearly three times as large as the current location.
Kris Long, Franklin County deputy administrator, said there will be room to expand the new building to the east and north if needed.
The coroner is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death in homicides and for people who have died by suicide, overdose, accident and in some other ways. The number of cases that fall under the coroner’s jurisdiction has been on the rise because of a growing central Ohio population, a statewide drug epidemic and other factors.
Last year, the office handled 4,538 cases that resulted in 1,168 autopsies and 1,331 on-scene investigations.
The county’s new forensic-science center will have more room for bodies and an updated design to allow bodies to be moved through admission, diagnostic imaging, autopsy and other areas more securely and efficiently than at the existing morgue.
An observation area behind glass will allow law-enforcement officers, nursing students and others to observe autopsies without getting in the way of forensic pathologists as they work. A separate space will allow families to view bodies through a window into the morgue area.
The toxicology lab will be bigger and have more biologically secure space, providing better protection for staff members working with potentially dangerous samples.