For the first time since the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office moved to its present location in the 100 block of Main Street in 1983, major renovations are planned for the building, thanks to a state grant.
On Tuesday, two committees of the Jefferson County Quorum Court recommended that a $46,000 appropriation be approved by the full court when they meet Monday.
The money comes from a grant from the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District, with the assistance of State Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff); State Reps. Henry “Hank” Wilkins III (D-Pine Bluff) and James Word (D-Pine Bluff); and SEAEDD Director Glenn Bell.
“This is long overdue,” Coroner Chad Kelley said Wednesday. “I’m thankful to our area legislators for their support and appreciate the judge (County Judge Dutch King) for what he’s done. This is work that has needed to be done for years.”
Kelley is completing his third term as county coroner and has worked in the office since September 2000.
“In all that time, there has been nothing done,” he said.
During the committee meetings Tuesday night, King said the building will be “brand new compared to what it is now.”
Last year, King described conditions at the coroner’s office as “an embarrassment to Jefferson County.”
Among the planned renovations will be a new roof.
“For three years, I had a 5-gallon bucket in the floor of my office to collect the water that was dripping in,” Kelley said.
Daniel Marks, who is legislative assistant and grants administrator in King’s office, said the new roof is “the top priority” when the work begins, hopefully, in early spring.
“We’re working with the architect now and then we will start the formal bidding process,” Marks said. “We think we can get a lot done (with the grant funds) because the structure is in acceptable shape.”
Other renovations include repairing walls in the bay area where the coroner’s vehicles are parked “to stop them from crumbling,” an expansion of the morgue area and the addition of a viewing room for families who have to come to the office to identify the remains of loved ones, as well as for law enforcement officers there on official business.
“Right now, when people come in to identify a body, they have to go into the morgue,” Kelley said. “We’re looking at creating a controlled environment because, with homicide victims in particular, it’s hard to keep families from touching the victims and they don’t need to be touched, especially if they’re going to the crime lab.
“This is also going to create a better working environment for us because we won’t have to worry about something falling out of the ceiling,” Kelley said.
“A week after the judge took office he made that a priority and I’m glad to see that something is going to get done,” Marks said, adding that the county will also be “seeking alternative resources” to make additional improvements.