Indian River County commissioners voted unanimously last week to approve paying up to $5.5 million in design and construction costs to help build a new, state-of-the-art Medical Examiner’s facility for the four-county region that includes 32963.
St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties will cover the remaining costs of the projected $20 million facility, which will be built on Indian River State College’s main campus in Fort Pierce.
“This is a much-needed project,” County Commission Chairman Joe Earman said, adding, “It will be a great asset to the four-county area.”
Dr. Patricia Aronica, medical examiner for the 19th Judicial District, said the facility is needed to meet the growing demands on her office as a result of the steady influx of new residents.
The existing 9,500-square-foot structure, built on the college’s campus in 1975, is too small, ill-equipped and outdated to accommodate the agency’s needs.
“The bottom line is, we have outgrown this building,” Aronica told members of the Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin county commissions during a joint meeting at the college last year.
Aronica was hired in May 2020 and moved from Baltimore to take the job upon the retirement of Dr. Roger Mittleman, who served as the Treasure Coast’s medical examiner for nearly 20 years.
Aronica said a new building would allow her to provide proper storage facilities for decedents’ bodies and enough autopsy rooms to handle an increasing case load.
Indian River County commissioners agreed with Aronica’s assessment that it was better to build a new facility than spend money on restoring and expanding the old one.
So did the college’s president, Timothy Moore, who said the existing building is “at the end of its service life.”
According to County Administrator Jason Brown’s report to the commissioners, the college will lease an on-campus site for the new facility for two 30-year terms at $1 per year.
St. Lucie County has agreed to “take the lead” in managing the interlocal project, Brown wrote, and once the design phase is completed, the four counties will be provided with an estimated cost of construction.
The four counties will share in the costs based on the same formula used for sharing operational expenses, which included the number of autopsies performed for each county.