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Regional forensic center to cost $5.25 million

Gerald Witt Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. (MCT) • Jan 1, 2014 at 6:00 PM

The cost of a regional forensic center is expected to be $5.25 million, according to a Knox County official.

That’s more than the $5 million Knox County Mayor

Tim Burchett hopes to get from the state for the facility, which means that Knox County will likely have to spend its own tax money on the project.

State officials haven’t said whether the money will be given in the upcoming budget, according to Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell, but he said the cost estimate has been submitted. Other regional medical examiner offices in Memphis and Nashville have received state support in the past.

“The whole time we’ve been asking for five (million), so that wouldn’t change,” Caldwell said of the expected $5.25 million cost.

But if

Gov. Bill Haslam wants to kick in a few extra bucks, “we’ll take it, for sure,” he said. The county is preparing to pay for the difference, however, with a bond that the Knox County Commission approved this year.

“We’re not sure what the state is going to do next,” he said, “but we’ve got to get started.”

The cost should cover the renovation and all equipment that would go into the building, which is in a former surgical center on Sullins Street.

Caldwell said work is underway to convert the building before the end of 2014, when the offices are expected to move from the University of Tennessee Medical Center to the new location.

In September, Knox County officials learned that University Pathologists, the private vendor that has operated the Regional Forensic Center, is getting out of the autopsy business. Hospital officials at the University of Tennessee Medical Center also said the Knox County Medical Examiner’s Office there will need to move by the end of next year.

The office serves a 22-county region in East Tennessee.

Knox County Medical Examiner

Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan agreed Monday that opening a new forensics center is an opportunity to create a facility to help the area for years to come.

It will be bigger than the current facility, she said, adding that space needs have been a concern.

When an Oct. 2 church bus crash in Jefferson County killed eight, victims’ bodies were delivered to her offices.

“We had eight victims that came to us at once,” Mileusnic-Polchan said. “We managed it, but it was tough. God forbid something bigger happens.”

The medical examiner plays a key role in homicide investigations and unexpected or unattended deaths. The records the office produces must be kept in perpetuity. Retrials can occur if questions arise later about a person’s death.

“It never shrinks,” Mileusnic-Polchan said of the growing files. She said she expects that a contract with a third-party record-keeper will likely be ended with the new, expanded facility.

“The new facility will have the ability to save them and reduce the cost,” she said.

There’s a lot more to the job of a forensic pathologist than what some may assume from a television program. And the new building should help accommodate those functions, Mileusnic-Polchan said.

“The back part should be offices, and is going to accommodate a couple of classrooms and teaching areas,” she said. “We do teach residents in pathology.”

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