County Morgue Project Gets New Builder


The refrigerator is only big enough to hold eight bodies.

The work area is cramped and poorly lit.

And perhaps worst of all, there is little ventilation to rid the air of its peculiar odor.

Conditions have changed little in the two decades the Ventura County morgue has operated out of the basement of the Ventura County Medical Center, said Dr. Ronald L. O’Halloran, the county’s medical examiner.

But the facility will soon have a new home.

O’Halloran and his staff plan to move into a new and larger morgue being built at Foothill and Hospital roads in Ventura at the end of the year.

The $1.4-million building will have twice as much space, and for the first time will consolidate the medical examiner’s administrative office and the morgue, O’Halloran said.


“Right now we have to walk back and forth three blocks to the hospital,” he said, adding that the coroner’s office now is housed in a converted machine storage shed.

In addition to more space, the new morgue will have a better ventilation system, improved lighting and a refrigerator large enough to hold 16 bodies. The new building will also include a special freezer to store badly decomposed bodies.

O’Halloran said up to 500 autopsies are performed at the county morgue each year and that more space is needed for examinations and storage.

Construction on the new morgue began last fall. But shortly after pouring the concrete for the building’s foundation, the contractor, New York Construction Co. of Woodland Hills, filed for bankruptcy.

After months of delay, county supervisors Tuesday approved a contract with a new builder to finish the work, and the facility is scheduled to be completed in December.

“That would be a nice Christmas present,” said James Baroni, an autopsy assistant.

Although he looks forward to the opening of the new facility, O’Halloran said there are some problems he will still have to contend with. He notes that the workload in his office has more than doubled over the past two decades, while his staff has shrunk.


“When the medical examiner’s office was first opened in 1974, we had a staff of 10,” he said. “Now there is a staff of nine--even though the county’s population has increased 60%.”