The building now used by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner at 30 Hospital St. in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The state is looking to build a larger medical examiner’s office that would increase the number of autopsies the agency can perform and bring Maine into compliance with national standards.

As the state’s population has grown in recent years, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner has not been able to keep up with the increasing need for the procedures used to identify the cause and manner of deaths, officials said.

Adding to the problem, the current facility does not have an autopsy isolation room, which state officials said is required to meet national standards for such facilities.

The Augusta Planning Board voted 6-0 this week to approve plans for an $18.8 million, 19,000-square-foot facility on Hospital Street.

That is more than double the size of the current, 8,300-square-foot medical examiner’s building that was built in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

“It’s a good project,” board member Steve Dumont said. “They did a lot of planning and thinking about it, so it’s not going to be obsolete in five years.”


Plans call for the new building to have a room where autopsies can be performed away from other activities, a larger autopsy “theater” and more refrigerated storage space.

“A couple of years ago, the state recognized the (Office of Chief Medical Examiner) facility underserves the state,” said Bob Gurney, project manager for the Maine Bureau of General Services, who is working on the new building. “Part of the work our consultant did to determine what (medical examiners) need in order to maintain certification and things like that, is they need to increase the number of autopsies they do, given the fact the state’s population has grown and there is a large influx of summertime population in the state.

“We believe the project we’re proposing here would meet the needs of the medical examiner’s office for the next 30 years.”

Gurney said a separate project is underway now within state government to form a master plan for the state’s complex at the public safety-focused site, where the new office is to be built.

He said the new building was funded prior to the start of that study, which is why it is taking place before the study. He added, however, it would be built so it could fit into any new master plan for the larger site.

Jon Boyd, an architect on the project with E4H Architecture, said the state anticipates adding six staff members when the new building opens. Plans call for the building to have space for up to 12 additional staff members, if needed in the future.


The state agency’s website indicates it now employs 13 people and works with more than 35 physicians who are trained as medical examiners and volunteer their time.

They perform more than 300 autopsies per year, according to Sharon Huntley, director of communications for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Increased office space will allow for additional investigators, medical examiners and administrators to be added in future expansions, officials said, and the extra space will allow increased autopsy capability at the new building.

The Augusta Fire Department’s former Hospital Street station is the proposed location of a new building for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The new building is to straddle the site of the city’s former Hospital Street fire station and the adjacent state parcel, which includes the state police barracks and the Maine Crime Lab. To make room for the project, Augusta sold the former fire station, used most recently for storage, to the state last year for $185,000.

The new facility is expected to be operational in late 2024.

Plans call for the building to appear to be one story from Hospital Street, but due to a slope in the back, it will have a second, lower floor, with an entrance in the rear.


One member of the public, resident Jon Silverman, spoke out on the proposal Tuesday at an Augusta Planning Board public hearing. Silverman, who lives at the corner of Congress Street and Third Avenue, which is across the street from the proposed facility site, said he could see a lot of thought went into the project, but expressed concern about the addition of parking along the front of the property. He said the parking would change the character of the neighborhood, because other facilities there, such as the adjacent Maine State Police barracks, do not have much parking in front of their buildings.

An artist’s rendering of a new building for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner at 40 Hospital St. in Augusta. Courtesy city of Augusta

The new building is to have 10 parking spaces between it and Hospital Street, at its public entrance, and another 18 parking spaces behind the building, near its lower entrance, which would not be used by the public.

“If you add the parking lot, it’s going to be a very, very different character,” Silverman said via a Zoom video connection. “It’s, frankly, much prettier not to have to look at a parking lot. I’m skeptical about that. It’s hard to really hide a parking lot. I’d rather not have to see it.”

Boyd, the project architect, said parking is needed on the front side of the building because that level of the building is where the administrative area would be, while autopsies are to be performed on the lower level, in the area not accessible to the public.

The front area is also where parking spots for those who are disabled or handicapped are to be located. He said the front parking lot would also be screened by trees.

“There are security issues with this building,” Boyd said. “It needs to be somewhat hardened, so what we didn’t want to do was bring in the public to the back, in the lower level, where the sensitive area is. We are planning to grow some new trees. Our goal is to not have the parking be right in your face as you’re driving down Hospital Street.”

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