New Beaufort County building a boon for disabilities department, coroner

kpeterson@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 21, 2012 

One new Beaufort County building is helping end years-old frustrations for staff in two departments.

About 85 people in the day program at Beaufort County's Disabilities and Special Needs department were welcomed two weeks ago into a new building tailored to their needs.

"What happened is that this county recognized that they are judged by how they serve the most vulnerable in the community," said department director Mitzi Wagner.

The department's old space on Old Shell Road, which had about 9,800 square feet, was so small that county recreation buildings had to be used for overflow.

Cramped quarters caused noise and confusion that were hard on those with disabilities like autism.

Some of the clients wear diapers, but the building's changing rooms didn't have running water.

The new 25,000-square-foot, $6 million building off Castle Rock Road solves these and other problems, Wagner said.Coroner Ed Allen hopes to use the recently vacated building to solve his space frustrations.

There is no county morgue, and Allen's office is a trailer on Shanklin Road, near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

That presents several problems, he said.

Allen uses space in area hospitals, including Beaufort Memorial and Hilton Head, to store the deceased, but deaths in the hospitals take priority. Unidentified remains are especially problematic because they must be held for 30 days, he said.

A recent change in law requires evidence in a crime be held for the duration of the perpetrator's incarceration, but the coroner's office has no place locally to store such evidence.

And because the trailer has no conference room, there's no place to meet privately with families of the deceased.

Now that the Disabilities and Special Needs department has vacated its old building, Allen is drawing up plans to renovate the space, which he hopes to present to County Council in the next few months.

" Just to be able to get to the point where we're at now -- just being in the planning phase of it -- is having us all excited," he said.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content:

Permanent coroner's office among 16 projects in county's five-year plan, April 24, 2010

Groundbreaking launches work on new facility for disabled adults in Burton, Feb. 24, 2010

Unclaimed remains points to need for county morgue, coroner says, Sept. 12, 2009

Disabled and special needs department looks forward to much-bigger building, June 19, 2009

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