Shovels in ground for forensics center in Northampton County
Thursday’s groundbreaking for the $11 million Northampton County forensics center had all the trappings of a typical public works ceremony. Local media recorded and members of County Executive Lamont McClure’s administration applauded as McClure, officials in his cabinet and members of Northampton County Council shifted a few clumps of dirt with gleaming chrome shovels.
But unlike most major county public projects, this one took decades to get off the ground despite longstanding bipartisan support.
Over 23 of his 27 years in office, Coroner Zachary Lysek lobbied five county executives to build adequate space for his office. As he waited, he relied on the charity of area hospitals, who provide lab space for autopsies and room to store the deceased until their next of kin claim them. A dilapidated, vermin-infested farmhouse in Louise Moore Park provides office space, but not enough to store evidence, supplies and documents for as long as Lysek would like.
That should change in September 2020, when the 27,847square-foot forensics center in Upper Nazareth Township is completed. The facility will provide the county with two autopsy rooms, a cooler to store bodies, viewing areas where people can identify the dead, storage, office space and a garage.
“For nearly 30 years, county councils have repeatedly called for building a forensics center but have never put their money were their mouth was,” McClure said.
Over the years, Lysek has stressed the need for the private meeting rooms, saying grieving families deserve better. In the current office, a cluttered conference room also serves as a lobby, evidence storage room and meeting space for families.
“This is an important day. This administration is addressing the needs of our office,” he said. “Any facility that improves on what we have will be better.”
Several iterations of county council have recognized the need for a morgue or forensics center but have faced setbacks. In 2013, then-Executive John Stoffa presented the need for the forensics center a month after council took out an $11.4 million bond to address bridges. Had the projects been tied together, the county could have funded them both.
“It’s about time!” said Scott Parsons, who served on council at the time but now works as deputy director of public works.
The forensics center could be the last major public works project the county tackles for the next few years. Last year, the county restructured its finances to buy its human services building in Bethlehem Township, which it had been renting. That cleared resources to build the forensics center. In addition, the county razed the Milides building across the street from the county courthouse in Easton to make way for parking.
Morning Call reporter Tom Shortell can be reached at 610-820-6168 or tshort[email protected]
Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek, right, chats Thursday after the groundbreaking for a county forensic center, which is scheduled to be completed by September 2020.