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Alameda County morgue heads for the hills

Hoping to sell or redevelop several publicly owned buildings in Oakland’s Jack London Square, Alameda County is preparing to move its coroner’s bureau and other public agencies to a single space in the Oakland hills in late December or early January, representatives from the county said Thursday.

Alameda County’s coroner’s bureau and its Public Health Department’s laboratory in Jack London Square, along with the sheriff office’s crime lab in San Leandro, will be moving to a newly refurbished building at 2901 Peralta Oaks Court in Oakland, said Aki Nakao, director of the county’s General Services Agency.

District Three Supervisor Wilma Chan said the opportunities for redeveloping the parcels “could be really exciting”:

“We’ve been trying to eventually empty out those buildings on Broadway that we own because those are really prime real estate.”

There are no immediate plans to redevelop the buildings, but Chan said the county has been discussing the possibility for 15 years.

The economic recession in 2008 slowed down the progress, but Chan said recent economic growth in the square made the timing opportune to vacate the buildings. She said the county is considering selling the buildings to the city of Oakland, if they want them, or to a private developer.

Chan said:

“There had been a proposal many years ago about someone doing a hotel there. … I think the primary people we’ll be talking to is at the city … and their partners and getting input from the businesses in the area.”

The parcel housing the coroner’s bureau and the Public Health Department laboratory in Jack London Square is just over 600,000 square feet, according to the county Assessor’s Office.

A representative from the office said there was no estimated value of the land or building because it’s exempt from taxes. The move is a long time coming for the coroner’s bureau, according to coroner’s Lt. Riddic Bowers, who said the bureau has long been advocating for a change of venue:

“We’ve needed a new facility for a long, long time. I just assume the timing was right for the county.”

The bureau has outgrown its current space, which it has occupied since at least the 1940s, he said. Odor control in the old facility is a problem and there isn’t much space for families of deceased loved ones to wait while handling their affairs, Bowers said.

Currently, the only space for families is in the hallway, Nakao said. Bowers noted that the autopsy equipment hasn’t been updated since the 1970s:

“We need more space. It’s inefficient and it doesn’t fully meet the needs of the citizens of the county. … I think we could serve the county better with new state-of-the-art facilities by being more efficient.”

The new space will have autopsy equipment, better lighting, better ventilation, better drainage, and roughly 10 percent more capacity to store bodies, as well as being an energy-efficient space, Bowers said.

The coroner’s bureau will share space with the Sheriff’s Office’s crime lab, which also needed new facilities, Chan said. Housing the lab functions in one building will be a more efficient use of space, Nakao said.

Construction of the new facilities cost the county roughly $24 million, but Nakao said they also expect to see savings from the more energy efficient building. Nakao said they are attempting to get Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for building reuse at the new site.

He said it made sense to move the Public Health Department laboratory at the same time since they are also housed in a very old building. The sheriff’s office did not return a request for comment about the move.

Chan said plans to redevelop the county-owned buildings will likely unfold over the next several years:

“I would imagine anyone who wants to develop there would have to do major renovations or would have to tear down the building. Their look is somewhat antiquated. … Whatever the deal is there, it would be a major change to the buildings as they stand now.”

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