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Construction cost hikes push new Ada County coroner’s office completion date to 2023

Ada County has a while longer to wait before its new coroner facility comes online.

In August, Ada County staff put the long-planned coroner’s office expansion for bid. But, because the only qualifying response was over budget, the county had to put the project back out for bid to get the price down to fit their budget. This pushes the projected completion date from the end of next year to the fall of 2023.

Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens has been outspoken for years about the need for a new coroner’s office, but it has been especially urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic when her office is bursting at the seams with bodies from Ada County and across Idaho. The current 13,5000 square foot facility, which was last updated in 2002, had issues with a lack of storage space for the deceased and cramped work areas prior to the pandemic.

But, the latest surge brought Owen’s staff to a breaking point. She declined an interview with BoiseDev about the need for a new facility due to her workload keeping up with the demand from the pandemic, but Owens said the county should have acted on a new facility five years ago when the topic first came up to take advantage of lower construction prices.

“We can’t keep up with caseload due to growth and covid cases occupying our current facility and keep our heads above water,” she wrote in an email. “I am going to lose staff, recruiting ability and we are flat out of space. Votes and funding should be secondary to public health, prevention and my office’s statutory and moral obligation- taking care of our deceased.”

Rising construction costs strike again

In mid-August, the Ada County Commissioners received two bids for the two-story, 35,000 square foot project, which is set for a lot in Meridian near DeMeyer Furniture. Anderson Construction came in the lowest with $31.267 million. The other bid from Layton Construction was disqualified because the company did not have the correct public work licensure for its subcontractors.

The Anderson Construction bid comes in just under the $32 million the previous Board of Commissioners approved to borrow from the Idaho Health Facilities Authority for the project. Even though the project is under this figure, Ada County spokesperson Elizabeth Duncan said $31 million would not be enough to cover contingencies. The county is putting the project back out to bid with the hopes it can get the costs down with some minor design changes, called “value engineering”.

Local governments across the Treasure Valley have been struggling in recent years with rapidly increasing construction costs, which have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic due to supply chain issues, labor shortages and other factors. Owens said the new coroner’s facility is also particularly difficult to build because of all of the specialty equipment it requires. When the project was put on the county’s Master Facilities Plan in 2018, it was estimated to cost $16 million.

Despite the steep cost increase, Duncan said the board intends to use American Rescue Plan funds to cover the extra costs and it will not be scrapping the project.

“There has always been an urgency to get this facility up and running and we hope that happens as soon as feasibly possible,” she wrote in an email.

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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