Larimer County unveils new coroner's office in Fort Collins
People in the morgue Tuesday were all smiles.
The Larimer County Coroner's Office unveiled its new $1.9 million location in Fort Collins Tuesday afternoon, inviting the public to chill out in the new facility, a marked upgrade from the previous operation, according to County Coroner and Chief Medical Examiner James Wilkerson.
"It's been a dream of mine for the last 10 years," Wilkerson told a crowd of a few dozen in front of the new office at 1600 Prospect Park Way, near the Larimer County Sheriff's Office and the Larimer County Jail.
The crowd included all three Larimer County Commissioners, Sheriff Justin Smith and District Attorney Cliff Riedel, who toured the building with other county staff, law enforcement personnel and interested citizens.
Wilkerson showed off the new facility — which has not yet taken on bodies — while listing some of the improvements on the old office at 495 N. Denver Ave. in Loveland. Prior to the move to Fort Collins, the Coroner's Office staff operated at offices on Denver Avenue, while performing autopsies and storing bodies at McKee Medical Center at 2000 N. Boise Ave.
Just under a year ago, Wilkerson spoke with the Reporter-Herald regarding the Coroner's Office's struggle to adapt to shrinking work spaces and a growing population in Larimer County. At that time, in early April, county commissioners had set aside $3.3 million to source and remodel a space, but the facility wasn't a reality, and Wilkerson still had a long wishlist for what the county needed.
First and foremost, he said Tuesday, the county needed a centralized location. He noted that while McKee Medical Center has been great to work with, the staff simply needed more breathing space. In the past few years, the county has had to taxi bodies back and forth between McKee and the Denver Avenue location. A central location means cutting back on transit time while keeping work in a safe and secure location.
The new place has four autopsy tables instead of two, and enough refrigeration space for up to 70 bodies of differing sizes. The Loveland address had room for 25, assuming all were under 6 feet and 200 pounds.
The new refrigeration room also has ample space for a small forklift to ease bodies up and down shelving units.
Wilkerson also showed an isolation autopsy chamber and an isolated refrigeration space designed to handle bodies that might have communicable diseases, chemical contamination or general decomposition. The morgue at McKee didn't have a way to separate contaminated bodies from people in the morgue, dead or alive.
Chief Deputy Coroner James MacNaughton told said the new place would be much easier on coroners and staff, who for years have had to work in tight quarters.
"This is what we needed," MacNaughton said. "No 'back-and-forth.'"
He explained another unique feature of the facility, a camera mounted above one of the autopsy tables used to take live footage and images of a body to be shown on a screen in the office's new family room.
He explained that on the off chance that a family needs to identify or wants to see a deceased loved one, they don't need to enter the morgue and can instead view footage in a more comfortable space.
"It's just another service we can provide to the family," he said.
Cathy Sloan, widow of the previous Larimer County Coroner, Patrick Allen, also made an appearance. She donated a state-of-the-art Lodox X-ray machine that can scan an entire human body in 13 seconds with low-dose radiation.
MacNaughton said the new machine will likely arrive at the new location in early June.
Project partners for the remodel and move included McKee Medical Center, The Architects' Studio, Bryan Construction, PP Midpoint LLC and W.W. Reynolds Companies.
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