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Md. breaks ground on new state forensics center

The Associated Press
3:33 PM EDT, October 22, 2008

State officials broke ground today on a new forensics center for the Maryland medical examiner's office that will be one of the largest in the nation when it opens in 2010.

The new 120,000-square-foot building will have a special area for autopsies of decomposed bodies, a laboratory to safely deal with people who have died from dangerous toxins, additional space to more easily handle mass casualties and a secure waiting room.

The building is being constructed in the University of Maryland BioPark, a cornerstone of efforts to redevelop the city's west side.

The medical examiner's office has been unable to keep up with demand for its services because of limited capacity at its current facility, prompting the construction of the new building.

The new six-story center will allow the medical examiner's office to conduct twice as many autopsies per day. The medical examiner currently conducts about 11 autopsies a day, or more than 4,000 a year, in a building designed for a maximum of 2,000 a year when it opened in 1968.

David J. Ramsay, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said the office investigates deaths from accidents, homicides and other unknown causes.

The majority of investigations turn out not to be the result of a crime, and the office often helps to identify "potentially life-threatening outbreaks" of disease and other threats which "allows government to take swift action."

Maryland's chief medical examiner, Dr. David Fowler, said his office is the only source of accredited training for pathology residents in Maryland and the District of Columbia and the increased space will enhance their training.

Secretary of General Services Alvin C. Collins said the new building will be "the most modern medical examiner's facility in the United States" when it is completed and will be as large as the forensic facility at Dover Air Force Base, the military's largest mortuary.

The building will also incorporate a number of green technologies designed to make it more energy efficient, including sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied areas, water conservation measures on all plumbing fixtures and a cooling system designed to cool computer rooms with outdoor air in the winter.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said after leading the groundbreaking that the $43 million price tag of the facility was justified despite the state's ongoing budget problems. O'Malley said the new forensics center was part of his administration's core mission of improving public safety and public education.

"We made the determination that this was something that had to go forward," the governor said. "It was not something we could push off for another 10 years."