Tulare County Sheriff is nearing final stages in building a new morgue to meet growing county demand
VISALIA – In 2020 the Sheriff’s department came to the realization that their morgue needed some renovation. In particular after their coroner, who made a career of doing more with less, died unexpectedly.
As a result, budgeted at $4.5 million, the Sheriff department is in the final stages and waiting on final construction plans for a new state of the art building expected to last for several decades.
“It’s just a really exciting project for the county and I think it’s a feather in the cap of the county,” Lt. Kevin Kemmerling said. “This thing is going to be one of the most modern facilities in Central California and certainly the newest. We’re going to be very proud of it.”
In addition to several other amenities, the new morgue will have more than double the amount of autopsy beds, have the ability to house 51 bodies, originally a maximum of 12, and go from 1,800 square feet to 6,000. An additional amenity Kimmerling said is that the new building will be at the same location, which is beneficial to the county because they will not have to stop working to make the move.
Kemmerling said the autopsy suite will be “totally high tech state of the art.” It will include six autopsy stations that are sectioned into three, with portable cadaver tables. Each station will have two sinks, which is quite an upgrade from only one sink in the current morgue. The building will be a substantial change in size and may even seem like too much, but the county is accounting for continual growth in the future. The new building will also have additional office space for future planning.
The current morgue building was built in the 1950s and used to be the weights and measures building for the county. It has not been renovated since it was updated in the 1980s, Kemmerling said. With a growing county, the demand for space was becoming increasingly more pressing, especially in such a small building. “So much has changed, it requires us to upgrade, we need the most modern ventilation systems, we need the most modern gear, we need the the best equipment because the coroner’s office can be very dangerous work,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said.
The Sheriff’s department had come to the realization that the need for growth was imminent even before the pandemic confirmed the severity of the situation. On a regular basis the capacity for the morgue was 12 bodies; they were seeing upwards of 20 a week during the pandemic. “We completely ran out of space,” Kemmerling said. “We had one autopsy table, that was it. We had no ventilation into the space, we had no ventilation for our histology lab, it was just really old school. And it was obvious… we needed to make a change and do some updating.”
Kemmerling said their standards have increased to a point where they have moved from more traditional coroner’s office work to a medical pathology office. Currently they are in the blueprint phases and once they go to construction, they are looking at about a 15 month construction time, given supply chain issues. If the project continues to run smoothly, the new morgue will be completed in 2024.
The old morgue will be turned into a storage facility for old property and evidence in previous cases.