Sarasota County will build an autopsy and office building for the District 12 Medical Examiner.
Sarasota County will soon begin constructing an office for the District 12 medical examiner, a facility that has to this point been missing from the county.
Although neighboring counties, such as Manatee County, have built autopsy facilities for its cases, Sarasota County has been paying Sarasota Memorial Hospital to use its facilities. Medical Examiner Russell Vega has asked for a Sarasota County facility to host offices and equipment for autopsies for nearly three years.
“Through no fault of our staff, this has been delayed for three years,” County Commission Chair Al Maio said. “Dr. Vega will still not get in the building for another year or two, so this has taken long enough, and we need to get the project moving.”
The new facility will be located on 4.4 acres at 4480 Fruitville Road, just east of McIntosh Road. It had to be placed within 3 miles of Interstate 75 to allow easy access to Manatee and DeSoto counties, which Vega and his staff also serve.
Commissioners voted 4-0 — Commissioner Nancy Detert was not present — to enter a lease with 4480 Fruitville LLC for the facility. State records show the LLC’s managing partner is Frank J. LaCivita, the executive vice president of Lakewood Ranch’s Willis Smith Construction, Inc.
The county would pay between $4.4 million and $4.9 million on the 30-year lease annually. The lease would have an annual 3% escalator or the consumer price index value, whichever is higher.
After property taxes, insurance and operating costs, Director of Capital Projects Carolyn Eastwood estimates the county will pay between $5 million and $5.6 million annually as a tenant.
The county has the option to purchase the property and the building for $19.1 million after a minimum of three years. Per the agreement, the facility will be built and occupied by January 2023.
Originally, the 17,483-square-foot facility was designed as a one-story building. However, commissioners wanted to explore the possibility of adding an unfinished second floor for future use.
Adding a second level would double the building’s square footage, but it would require 70 additional parking spaces, the removal of grand trees and the use of a stormwater vault system, all of which would drive the cost up by about $6 million. Additionally, the extra floor space would drive the annual cost of the lease up by about $500,000.
Commissioner Mike Moran said he’d like to explore the option of a second floor because he said the county would be hard-pressed to get 18,000 square feet so easily.
“I think it’s just common sense,” Moran said. “We’re already under construction here, but we’ll never have another opportunity like this for the interest of the taxpayer.”
Additionally, Moran said the additional space could be used as a way to generate revenue through rentals or as overflow or storage should the county administration headquarters be moved to Cattlemen Road.
“The minute we do a ribbon-cutting on this, I’m willing to bet a Starbucks coffee to anyone on the board that we will get a request from staff that we need to come up with 20,000 square feet of space,” he said.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler also was in favor of the second floor, but he questioned whether it could be built later. LaCivita said it isn’t cost-prohibitive because codes change, and the first floor tenants would have to be vacated while construction is underway.
Moran said the county wouldn’t have to fund a fully furnished second floor right away and could instead just build a “cold, dark shell” until they decide a future use.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger agreed, stating it makes sense to move forward with the project now, so the medical examiner doesn’t have to wait several more years for an office in the county.
“I think we take the opportunity, and we build the shell,” Cutsinger said. “One of the reasons we’re moving forward with this project right now is because we’re fast-tracking this as much as possible because it’s been underway for quite some time.”
Commissioners agreed to move forward with the one-story lease, and staff will now work with 4480 Fruitville LLC to move forward on the design of two stories.