Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to make repairs to its aging inmate-built Coroner’s Office in lieu of replacing the facility, as recommended in a recent grand jury report.
The report, which called the facility inadequate in many respects, said the ventilation in the autopsy room was “deficient,” and noted that there is no transition room for staff to remove protective clothing and clean up.
Despite the concerns, the county’s Director of General Services Matthew Pontes recommended repair work estimated at $145,000, which could last up to 20 years. The repair work includes upgrades to the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system, known as HVAC.
“Repairs to the facilities are not significant enough to require replacement of the facility,” Pontes said. “The upgraded HVAC system will address the concerns noted by the grand jury, and a new facility is not warranted or reasonable.”
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam disagreed.
“This facility is clearly at the long end of its life, and we’re going to have to replace it at some point,” Adam said. “Can we put a Band-Aid or a cast on it and do that right now with the ventilation system? Yes, but you know, if anybody has toured the facility, they know that if the termites stop holding hands, it’s gonna fall down.”
Adam also called the county’s own response to the grand jury “boilerplate language,” referencing staff’s indication that replacing the facility isn’t warranted or reasonable.
“I don’t think the grand jury or the public should think that we’re just blowing this off,” he said. “Everybody up here knows that needs to be done.”
Adam said the county should find money to prioritize the facility’s replacement.
Meanwhile, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf asked Pontes to work on a plan with the Sheriff’s Office to set up a temporary room, within the project’s overall budget, that could be used as a transition room, as that wasn’t addressed in $145,000 worth of repairs.
The grand jury noted that because there is no transition room, staff have to remove protective clothing and clean up outside the building in the open.
Pontes noted that the repair work is estimated to last 90 days and added that work on the ventilation system could start this month.
Approximately 120 autopsies are performed each year at the facility on victims of homicides, infants and adults under 55, according to the grand jury.
The inmate-built facility was constructed in 1987 after the board identified an emergency need to build a Coroner’s Office, according to the grand jury. A year later the facility was put into operation.
July 12, 2016
By Kenny Lindberg