After a decade trying to build a new morgue, Cowlitz County is taking steps that could have the coroner’s office in new quarters by late next year.

County Coroner Tim Davidson said he, an architect and a project director are completing designs for the new building. There’s no cost estimate yet, but Davidson said the county commissioners have assured him that replacing the cramped old morgue is a priority.

“The commissioners have listed this as their No. 1 capital priority,” he said. “We still haven’t come up with the financial part yet, but everything’s moving forward and staying on track. (But) there’s a lot of pieces that have to fall into place.”

The county had completed a blueprint for a new morgue in 2007, but the recession killed those plans.

The new morgue will be located at the corner of Third Avenue and Washington Street and will require demolition of several abandoned homes. The old morgue, located right next door, will be torn down and converted into a parking lot.

The coroner said the building just received re-accreditation in November from the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, but the organization noted that a new facility is likely needed.

Davidson said he hopes the new county budget, which will be adopted later this month, finances the new facility.

“This is something that the county budget … has to support,” he said. “If we don’t have the financial means, this could be put on the backburner again.”

Commissioner Joe Gardner said the morgue facility is one of the three capital priorities for the county, along with fixing the Hall of Justice’s roof and finding a new location for the 911 call center.

“They’ve made do with it for a long time, and their needs have outgrown the facility,” Gardner said of the current morgue. “We’re trying to get the finalized numbers from the architect, and they’re working with our facilities department to get a follow up as to what we’re going to be looking at, cost-wise. We’re exploring all options.”

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