Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Health and Crime Lab in the Works

Health and Crime Lab in the Works
By Ben Antonius

FAIRFIELD - Solano County is planning a $16 million laboratory and medical clinic addition to its Courage Drive property in southwest Fairfield.

The project is envisioned as a two-story, 30,000-square-foot building, about half of which will be devoted to the public health clinic. The land there already houses a smaller medical clinic, which will likely be taken over by the Department of Health and Human Services.

About 8,800 square feet will be used for a public health lab that will serve the clinic, testing patient samples for such things as tuberculosis. The first phase of the project, which is being designed, would include a forensic lab as well. Later expansions could add more advanced crime scene analysis and DNA testing.

The county's public health lab is now in Vallejo, but the Fairfield site will be more central, both to people and to other services, county architect Kanon Artiche said.

"With the population growing north in the county, this will have the public health lab becoming more situated where the majority of the population is located," he said. "In the event there is some sort of major emergency or major event, the lab will be strategically located where the other critical county facilities are located."

The remaining space would be used for the forensic lab - something Solano County doesn't have. Right now, the county contracts with Contra Costa County to process things such as drug and alcohol tests.

"What we will be doing is bringing that in-house so that local dollars stay local (and) so we're not contributing to another county's well-being but to our own well-being," Artiche said.

The more advanced analysis is done by the state Department of Justice in Sacramento, but the overworked lab has a "huge lag time between the date of occurrence and their ability to deliver an analysis," District Attorney David Paulson said. The future expansions depend on whether the DOJ continues to provide the services for free, Paulson said.

"I do not foresee the state continuing to be able to provide this service for us at no cost," Paulson said. If it starts to charge counties for the service, the Solano County project "would become economically feasible."

The county owns a parcel of land on the south side of Courage Drive between Beck Avenue and South Watney Way. The proposed building would be on the corner of Courage Drive and South Watney.

The building accounts for $16.7 million on a long list of projects that make up the county's $250 million, five-year capital improvement plan. The county Board of Supervisors last updated the plan in December 2006.

County officials to break ground on the project in May, with construction to take about a year, Artiche said.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or bantonius@dailyrepublic.net.

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