The Will County Board is considering a study on the construction of a new morgue to replace the existing facility that officials say is inadequate.
Members of the Will County Board Capital Improvements Committee discussed the issue during a virtual meeting on Tuesday.
Dave Tkac, the deputy chief of staff to the Will County executive, told the committee there has been an "ongoing consensus that our current morgue is woefully undersized." The first step, he said, was to find a suitable location for a future facility.
The existing morgue shares a building on Caton Farm Road near Weber Road in Crest Hill with the Will County Sheriff's Office and Division of Transportation.
Jason Dwyer, of the design firm Wight & Co., said during the meeting that the setup was more of a "temporary" space which no longer meets the needs of the county coroner's office.
"In a perfect world, I think that the morgue would be a stand-alone building," Dwyer said.
He added the new facility's location was another important aspect to consider, as the current morgue is in the northwestern part of the county. He suggested an ideal, more central location would be near other county facilities along Laraway Road in Joliet Township.
He said there is green space between the Will County Public Safety Complex and the Division of Transportation building west of Cherry Hill Road which appears to be a suitable.
Laurie Summers, who became the designated interim Will County coroner last month after the retirement of Patrick O'Neil, said she has long advocated for a new morgue. She's invited several Will County Board members to the morgue on Caton Farm Road to show them the need for more space.
"It's clear that we are just bursting at the seams," Summers said of the current morgue. "We need way more space."
Summers said the existing morgue typically has cooler space for between 12 to 14 cadavers, though the coroner's office really needs room for closer to 20 to 24 cadavers at a time. She has told board members in the past that the coroner's office is busier now, with an increasing number of calls for death cases, especially as the county's population has grown over the last two decades.
She also hopes for a morgue with more modern equipment, including a better ventilation system.
Summers added it would be best for the county coroner's administration, which is in downtown Joliet, to be housed in the same facility as the new morgue.
Member Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, asked about how the county would be able to pay for the construction of a new morgue, especially as the board is contemplating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the county's 2021 budget.
Minority Leader Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, suggested the county could use federal funds it's received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. Other members said if that were possible, the county should move forward with the study and the project.
Dwyer told the committee a study on a new morgue would cost around $10,000.