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Coroner makes case for new office space

Staff photo / Renee Fox Trumbull County coroner Dr. Lawrence D’Amico, left, and Kathleen Meszaros, chief forensic investigator, talk on Thursday at the office, which is located on the second floor of the building where the Trumbull County Board of Elections is housed. D’Amico and his staff are pushing Trumbull County commissioners for a new facility, saying they have outgrown the current one.

WARREN — The Trumbull County Coroner’s Office has outgrown its office space, coroner Dr. Lawrence D’Amico said.

A tour of the space, up a steep flight of stairs with narrow treads to the second floor of the building where the Trumbull County Board of Elections also is housed at 2931 Youngstown Road SE, shows a narrow office space the coroner, a secretary and four investigators share. The modest private office houses the forensic pathologist who needs space for technical equipment, while D’Amico, a retired surgeon, takes a small cubicle in the back corner. The wood paneling adds to the cramped and dated feel. Boxes and files sit next to the desks because of a lack of storage space.

A “conference room” no bigger than an average kitchen acts also as a break room, a blood specimen holding area and houses the heating and cooling system, loudly humming away unless it is turned off for conference calls and video meetings, sending temperatures soaring or dropping.

The space is approximately 1,400 square feet.

The workspaces for D’Amico, the secretary and four investigators are separated by cubicle walls in front and behind, and open on the side. When everyone is working, making and receiving sensitive phone calls about the deaths the office investigates, the space has all the ruckus of a “train station,” D’Amico said.

“These phones are always ringing off the hook. The employees are in this confined space. Our space is so confined, and we’re talking about very personal information, it’s like a train station in here at times and it is very difficult to work in,” D’Amico said.

And the space has no appropriate meeting space to consult families about the deaths of their loved ones, D’Amico said.

“We want to offer the opportunity to sit down and talk to people and their families, because we’re going over some complex autopsy stuff. We don’t have a place to sit with them to discuss stuff,” D’Amico said. “And coming from a physician, from a clinical standpoint, we just don’t give this kind of information over the phone, we like to sit down and talk with people.”

Most of the conversations are held on the phone because not everyone can make the trek up the stairs.

“People with bad knees can’t get up here, handicapped people can’t get up here. When older people come to get records, we walk down to give them to them,” Kathy Meszaros, chief forensic investigator, said. “I’ve had older people sit on the steps while talking to me, crying. They can’t get up the stairs, there is nowhere to take people to talk about their loved one.”

There are safety issues for the staff, too, D’Amico said.

The staircase is the only entrance or exit.

“If there is a fire near these steps, we’re in trouble,” D’Amico said.

The former coroner, the late Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, once gave Meszaros an axe to break a window of the second story floor, just in case a fire blocks the exit. A jump likely would be just as dangerous, Meszaros said.

And because the treads of the steps are about two inches shorter than current standards call for, getting up and down the stairs every day can be dangerous, especially if someone is carrying anything, Meszaros said.

“We’re all a little bit fearful,” D’Amico said.

The conversation about finding a new space for the office isn’t new. It started when D’Amico was deputy coroner before he took office as coroner in January, he said.

“About 18 months ago, we realized we grew out of this space,” he said.

The first two buildings suggested, both former funeral homes, were found to be incompatible with the office’s needs, D’Amico said.

Both were larger than needed, and were older buildings that would have required a lot of work to update for use and would have needed structural changes.

The office only needs about 500 more square feet than it has and an ideal candidate has surfaced, D’Amico said.

“There is now an ideal building for us available. It has just gone on the market. It’s within walking distance of the morgue. It’s 2,000 square feet and it eliminates all of the noise problems because it has small but individual offices for the investigators. It is kind of like the perfect property,” D’Amico said.

The medical office would cost about $250,000 and is across the street from Trumbull Regional Medical Center, where the morgue for the office is housed. Coroner employees and the forensic pathologist often have to visit the morgue for their duties.

The building needs superficial fixes, like painting and carpet, and may need a new furnace in the future, but is in good shape, D’Amico said.

D’Amico spoke to the county commissioners about the building, giving them tours of the existing office and inviting them to tour the proposed building.

At a Trumbull County commissioners meeting this week, Commissioner Niki Frenchko proposed a moratorium on building purchases, but her motion failed when commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda did not second it.

Frenchko said she believes the existing space could be modified and a first-floor storage room could be turned into offices or a conference room. She said the county should concentrate on maintaining the buildings it owns.

D’Amico said that wouldn’t fix the other issues the office has with space and safety. She proposed a chairlift for the stairs, but that would only crowd the already precarious staircase, D’Amico said. And that first-floor room would require a lot of work to make it a workspace, plus there are leaks and other issues in it.

Fuda and Cantalamessa said a moratorium on buying buildings didn’t make sense and that they would only support a purchase after reviewing the information, weighing it and deciding if it is a good deal or not.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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