A long-proposed county project to build a new medical examiner’s office has risen from the grave.
After years of waiting and discussion, Galveston County finally appears ready to dedicate a new facility for the county’s medical examiner.
Commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to negotiate a contract with Houston engineering firm Page Southerland Page, Inc., to design and plan the building renovation project.
If an agreement is reached and approved, the county hopes to convert an unused environmental laboratory on South Oak Street in La Marque to a new medical examiner’s facility.
The vote allows the county to negotiate a contract with the company. Page Southerland Page was the only company to respond to the county’s request for qualifications for the project, according to county documents.
The county has explored moving the examiner’s office to La Marque since 2015. But questions about costs and funding sources have long delayed the project.
A 2016 county study determined that moving the office to La Marque could cost between $4 million and $5 million. On Monday, a county spokesman said that cost is now estimated to be as high as $6 million because of construction cost increases.
If a final contract is awarded, 90 percent of the project will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency using disaster recovery funds awarded to the county after Hurricane Ike, officials said. The county has not determined where its 10 percent matching funds would come from, but it could use a portion of the $80 million bond county voters approved in 2017 to cover the costs, officials said.
The county medical examiner’s office has been at its current location next to Mainland Medical Center on FM 1764 in Texas City since 1988. Local officials have been pushing for more space for the department since as early as 2010.
The current office is overcrowded and lacks space for evidence storage, said Galveston County Chief Medical Examiner Erin Barnhart. Working conditions at the building are deteriorating, she said.
“The building is past its expiration date,” Barnhart said. “We’re having consistent problems with everything from electricity and rodents and heating and air conditioning and refrigeration. It’s like an old house. It’s always something.”
Part of the reason the county has run out of space at the current office is simply a matter of growth. When the current office was constructed in 1988, Galveston County’s population has grown by more than 120,000 people.
Galveston County also has contracts with Fort Bend, Brazoria and Matagorda counties to perform autopsies from those jurisdictions.
Officials did not give an estimate on when they thought a contract would come back to commissioners.