Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office potential Mtka location

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office could be moving from its downtown Minneapolis location at 530 Chicago Avenue to a Minnetonka lot at 14300 County Road 62. Pictured is a preliminary rendering of the facility’s entrance.

MINNETONKA — Dates have changed for when the city of Minnetonka will hear about the possibility of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office moving from downtown Minneapolis to the Glen Lake neighborhood.

A cancellation of the April 11 Minnetonka Planning Commission meeting means dates will likely be shifting again. 

Before the announcement, Hennepin County Director of Facility Services Margo Geffen said the county would be at the planning commission April 11, with a formal vote planned for April 25. Plans were anticipated to go before the City Council May 6. 

Dates were changed, she said, as the county wanted to take a closer look at road access options.

The potential facility would be 64,000 square feet and priced at $52.8 million. Project descriptions in the planning commission agenda cite the potential office’s location as 14300 County Road 62. The county’s Home School currently owns the lot.

The potential Minnetonka location would have more space, better equipment and improved customer service, said Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker.

At the moment, the office serves Hennepin, Dakota and Scott counties from a retrofitted 28,000-square-foot office in downtown Minneapolis. It investigates unexpected deaths in the three counties to determine how, and why, someone has died.

“By the time we will have moved, we will have had 20 years of use (at the Minneapolis site),” Baker said. “Considering it was a retrofit of a building that was already decades old, I’m confident we already got our money’s worth out of the old facility.”

In 2013, the medical examiner’s office brought in a national consulting firm to conduct long-range planning.

“What we learned was that even by standards in 2013, we were already undersized,” Baker said. “We were already pushing the limit of what the facility was capable of doing.”

With the support of the county, a design was planned for a brand-new facility that would comfortably fit the population through 2050 and beyond. Hennepin, Dakota and Scott counties have one-third of the state’s population, and state demographer data was a driving force in gauging design accommodations.

Over the course of two legislative sessions, the state has allocated $17.75 million to the project.

Among the anticipated features is a three-lane sally port, in which vehicles could enter and exit more fluidly. The port would also be fitting if, “God forbid,” it had to be converted into a mass disaster morgue, Baker said.

The new facility would increase the number of autopsy tables from seven to 12. It would go from having a cooler that fits 35-40 bodies to a cooler that could hold 100 bodies. Postmortem CT scanning would be added as a noninvasive form of identifying cause of death.

Staff in the current building face ergonomic issues in having to manually move bodies, whereas the new location would have autopsy tables that could move up and down.

The new building would have the opportunity to be greener too, Baker said, with a design that’s more efficient in its use of energy.

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