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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County breaks ground on $11 million medical examiner facility

County Commissioner Al French speaks during the ground breaking of the new "state of the art" Medical Examiner Building in Spokane on Monday, May 13, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A newly renovated $11 million medical examiner’s building in Spokane will provide training opportunities for college students in the field of forensic pathology.

The county is overhauling a building at 102 S. Spokane St. that will eventually house the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office. The 24,000-square-foot facility will include autopsy labs, improved imaging capabilities, temperature-controlled storage systems, a Lodox X-ray body scanner, classroom space and a 700-square-foot drive-through sally port.

There will also be dedicated space for law enforcement and attorneys to observe autopsies, according to the county.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, which performs autopsies for 11 counties in Eastern Washington and Idaho, is currently occupying space in the North Spokane Professional Building at 5901 N. Lidgerwood St. and the basement of Holy Family Hospital.

The county has been considered replacing the antiquated facilities for more than eight years, said Al French, Spokane County commissioner, at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.

The new medical examiner’s facility – close in proximity to Washington State University’s health sciences programs as well as the University of Washington School of Medicine and Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership – could be a resource for students seeking careers in forensic pathology and provide opportunities for them to observe autopsies during pathology rotations, he said.

“We are going to have to attract new talent and to attract them to the basement of Holy Family Hospital would be a bit of a challenge,” French said. “But now, we are going to have a state of the art facility, so, hopefully, we’ll be able to take the step toward the next generation of medical examiner services to this community.”

The proposed facility will be funded by a more than $1.2 million state grant and real estate excise tax revenue. The county purchased the existing University District building for $1.9 million in 2017.

“We didn’t want to just invest taxpayer dollars into a facility anywhere in the county,” French said. “We wanted to be close to the medical schools, so that we can take advantage of supporting what they are doing and also let them take advantage of a facility that provides resources for them and their educational experiences.”

Once completed, the medical examiner’s facility will accommodate more than 20 employees. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office currently employs 11 people.

Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. John Howard said work in the medical examiner’s office intersects with public safety, public health, the criminal justice system as well as medical education and research.

Artist's rendition of new Medical Examiner's office.
Artist’s rendition of new Medical Examiner’s office.

“The design and location will allow many more medical students and positions in training to benefit from learning,” he said.

State Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the proposed project reflects collaboration among state and local government.

“I’m excited about this building, but I’m especially excited about the University District as a whole,” he said, adding that the Legislature approved $14.4 million in core funding this year for the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and 20 additional students.

“We just opened the University District Gateway Bridge and the whole vision was about revitalizing this area,” he added. “It’s about economic development, it’s about education, it’s about health care and this building fits so perfectly.”

Renovation of the new medical examiner’s facility is slated for completion in May 2020.