Health department headed to rehabbed Allegheny County morgue

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Proof that anyone can make a new start: The former county morgue, a Gothic garret of a building with gargoyles and all, will soon house the Allegheny County Health Department.

Built in 1903 beside the larger Allegheny County Courthouse, the old morgue housed the medical examiner's office until 2009. An ongoing $7 million renovation will add new elevators, insert a second floor into the former chapel and shore up structural supports.

"This is what we call an adaptive reuse," said county public works director Steven Johnson on Wednesday at a county council finance committee meeting.

The renovations come as a hotel developer prepares to buy the Health Department's old headquarters in Oakland for nearly $5 million, a long-negotiated deal whose proceeds will go directly to the county's savings account, county manager William McKain said. But the old morgue won't be ready for new offices until the end of this year.

So in the meantime, 54 health department employees will camp out at the John J. Kane Regional Center in Glen Hazel, which has space to spare.

"The only thing we were concerned about was if we had a space worthy of them and the people they serve," Mr. McKain said.

The headquarters sale gives another bonus to the old morgue: More than $3 million previously allocated for the Oakland building's renovation will go to the morgue instead.

It's a turn of fortune for the old building, which always seemed to come last in the county's renovation queue. In the 1920s, it was put on rails and unceremoniously dumped two blocks south to make room for the County Office Building.

Even architects have given it a kick or two, calling the three-story building a "caricature" of the better-known Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail.

But it has soldiered on. And with its new inhabitants, people may finally have to stop calling it "the old morgue."

neigh_city - region - health

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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