Northampton County officials are trying to breathe new life into the idea of a new morgue.
County council has been talking off and on for more than two decades about finding a new home for the morgue from an old building in Louise Moore Park in Lower Nazareth Township, and even set aside $15,000 in this year's budget for a study.
County Coroner Zachary Lysek has been working with Allentown-based W2A Design Group to develop specifications for a new morgue so a company can be hired to do a feasibility study, county executive John Stoffa told WFMZ.com recently. "It sounds like they're talking about something that's 20,000 to 30,000 square feet," Stoffa added.
Lysek also has visited Lancaster County's new morgue to check out the floor plan, Stoffa said. The one-story, 13,200-square-foot forensic center in East Hempfield Township is adjacent to the Lancaster General health campus and cost $6.4 million to build. It opened in last November, 14 months after ground was broken.
"With DNA testing and more sophisticated tools becoming available to determine the cause of death, there is a need for a more professional space," Stoffa said.
Various council members have raised the subject of a new morgue in passing at several recent meetings.
Councilman Lamont McClure teased a St. Luke's Hospital official about it Thursday night.
Tom Lichtenwalner, St. Luke's senior vice president of finance, was at the council meeting to answer questions about a $100 million bond issue to expand St. Luke's Anderson campus in Bethlehem Township. The county's General Purpose Authority had approved the bond issue that would be used to add 200 beds, an administration building and other capital projects, and St. Luke's was seeking council's blessing.
McClure had council members and people in the audience chuckling when he asked Lichtenwalner, "How about making space for a new morgue? I want to make it clear there's no linkage [to my vote on approving the bond issue]. But how about a new morgue? I assure you there's no linkage."
Lichtenwalner deadpanned, "A hundred-million dollars doesn't go very far these days."
(Council eventually voted 9-0 to back the bond issue, which does not financially obligate the county in any way.)
Like McClure, Stoffa is also a fan of St. Luke's Anderson campus as a location. "If I were king, I would have the new morgue [there]," he said in an interview with WFMZ.com. "Sophisticated lab tests could be done there, and it would be a good deal for interns [at St. Luke's] for educational purposes."
But, Stoffa said, "it makes no sense looking for space until we know whether council will approve [a new morgue]. We could look at an existing building, or we could build on [county-owned] property."
A new, state-of-the-art morgue might become a moneymaker for the county, according to Stoffa.
"We could become a regional center," he said. "We might bring in revenue from Monroe and Pike [counties] and western New Jersey."
Stoffa said Lysek has been asking for a new morgue for 27 years and that he believes Lysek would make good use of it.
"He's a very professional coroner. Anything questionable, he looks into it," Stoffa said. "He goes the extra mile. He digs under the carpet."