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Published February 20, 2013, 08:49 AM

Cass County coroner looking at building space

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The Cass County coroner may get a new office in a former Sunmart/CVS building now owned by the city of Fargo.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The Cass County coroner may get a new office in a former Sunmart/CVS building now owned by the city of Fargo.

The city has been discussing making the 58,000-square-foot structure a headquarters for the Fargo Cass Public Health Department, as well as a substation for Fargo police. Fargo city commissioners finalized the $3 million purchase earlier this week, The Forum reported.

Cass County Coroner John Baird has never had an office. He handles his part-time coroner duties out of the Fargo Cass Public Health downtown location, where he is health officer.

"We would be planning ahead to have space if we needed to have temporary storage of bodies as investigations were being done and things like that," Baird said.

Currently, the county depends on funeral homes to store the dead during investigations and for space to conduct preliminary examinations.

"As the county grows and as we have more deaths that the coroner gets involved with, having an office would make sense," Baird said.

Autopsies in Cass County would still have to be done by the state's forensic medical examiner in Bismarck, but that could soon change. State legislators are discussing the state health department's budget, which could allocate funds to have more autopsies done in Grand Forks, Baird said.

"Our deaths (statewide) have increased, especially with the western part of the state," Baird said, which is putting pressure on the medical examiner in Bismarck.

The Sunmart closed in May 2009 after losing its lease. CVS Pharmacy relocated to a new building across the parking lot last January.

City staff began negotiating the purchase from CVS Corp. in December.

Fixing up the former Sunmart location will cost around $8 million, with funds coming from city savings as well as future state aid payments, said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

The purchase comes with some restrictions from the previous owner. The city cannot use the site to operate a pharmacy, retail health care center or a health or beauty aid store.

"Public Health gives out flu shots, but they don't charge for it, so they're not really a competitor," said Assistant City Attorney Jason Loos.

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