Office of the Medical Examiner Relocation
Best Project

Owner: Denver Health & Hospital Authority
Lead Design Firm: Page Southerland Page Inc.
General Contractor: Turner Construction Co. Denver Business Unit
Structural/Civil Engineer: Martin/Martin Consulting Engineers
MEP Engineer: Cator Ruma & Associates
Medical Equipment Consultant & Lab Designer: Iron Horse Architects Inc. 
Communication Systems Design: Smith Seckman Reid Inc. 

This project converted a 60-year-old warehouse and office building into state-of-the art forensic labs. Among its many features: seven autopsy stations, an isolation room for infectious and decomposition cases, and coolers and freezers to accommodate future growth. Construction was filled with challenges such as poor soil, asbestos and lead paint. 

Structural challenges within the building included a basement that had been only partially excavated, unreinforced caissons that stopped short of bedrock and unreinforced exterior masonry walls. For the foundation, the contractor installed helical piers to reinforce the recessed freezer slabs, installed drilled piers to stabilize existing grade beams, used foam-injection grouting to stabilize the slab sections and adhered to strict load limits established by the structural engineers. Scissor lifts, heavy equipment and material loads were all carefully calculated and coordinated to avoid overloading the existing slab, which was primarily supported by the exposed, unreinforced caissons.

Poor soil also compounded construction difficulties. During excavation, crews discovered the building site was an old landfill with soil unsuitable for backfill. The contractor worked with the owner and the earthwork trade partner to use geotextiles, which kept costs down by minimizing the need for new fill.

Permitting delays also created issues. In particular, a canopy needed to be redesigned to meet the city’s requirements and those of the Denver Fire Dept. The project team managed to reshuffle exterior work sequences and keep things moving during an extended period of uncertainty. The result was a canopy that met all requirements, with minimal impact to the overall schedule.

The work of the medical examiner’s office is vital to Denver, its surrounding communities and the nation. The staff gives families closure by determining causes of death, helps solve criminal cases and identifies larger health trends (specifically, drug addiction, suicide, violent behavior) that help shape public health policy. With the completion of this new building, Denver now has impressive new facilities for forensic medicine.

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