Westmoreland County commissioners have awarded contracts to turn a former waste-to-energy plant into a forensics facility.
The plant in Hempfield was once used to burn garbage to create energy for nearby county buildings, including a nursing home, the prison and a juvenile detention center.
But that process was inefficient and the building has been largely unused for 15 years.
At a meeting last week, Commissioner Charles Anderson said it was a waste of a "hulk of a building sitting on prime real estate."
The building will be converted into a two-story structure and will house the coroner, detectives and forensic investigators, county engineer Gary Vautard said.
Now, those workers are scattered in different locations. The coroner's offices are in downtown Greensburg. The morgue is in Westmoreland Manor, the nursing home on the site where the new forensics facility will be located. Forensic investigators and detectives work out of a facility on Donahue Road in Hempfield.
The $1.1 million renovation will make good use of a building that's been underused since the late 1990s, Mr. Vautard said.
"It's going to bring it back to new life," he said.
Coroner Ken Bacha said the plan is a "fabulous idea."
"Putting us all under one roof is certainly a smart, efficient thing," he said.
Mr. Bacha said he has visited forensics facilities in counties throughout Pennsylvania and said Westmoreland County's plan will be a saving for taxpayers because the county is using an existing building and the water, sewers, electricity, foundation and roof are already in place. He said some of the facilities he has visited cost several million dollars.
"Doing this for $1.1 million is a great, big savings," he said.
Mr. Bacha said the facility will have several labs and space for county detectives to process evidence. He said the county currently has room for only a half-dozen bodies at one time - four in a cooler at the Manor and two in a wheeled cooler. The new facility will have room for about 30.
Mr. Bacha added that having the coolers in-house will relieve the burden of workers at Westmoreland Manor, who are currently responsible for releasing bodies to families or funeral homes.
The facility also will have a full autopsy suite, though the county contracts with Cyril Wecht to handle all of its autopsies, and Mr. Bacha says the county doesn't plan to change that arrangement. He said the suite will be used for "everything short of an autopsy," such as the collection of blood.
State grant money will pay for morgue upgrades and additional equipment such as carts and floor scales, Mr. Bacha said.
He said the renovations are scheduled to be completed by the end of May.
The county commissioners awarded these contracts for the project: Arcon Contracting of Lower Burrell, $750,200 for general contracting; BECA Electrical Contractors of Crabtree, $108,000 for electrical work; and Reno Brothers of New Brighton, $143,757 for heating, ventilation and air conditioning and $161,751 for plumbing.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.