State finalizes agreement to buy storage facility for human remains

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State leaders have finalized an agreement to buy a facility to use for storing human remains in the event there’s a surge in the number of COVID-19-related deaths.

State leaders first talked about the plan earlier in the month as the agreement was still being finalized.

Minnesota Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said the state wanted to be ready if there is a surge in the number of deaths, which the models they’re looking at project is possible. The Minnesota Department of Administration (MDA) said those models shows the pandemic could add up to 1,000 deaths per week during the peak with half of all projected deaths within just a four to five-week period.

Some Minnesota legislators were critical of the plan but the purchase is now finalized.

State leaders planning to buy facility to possibly store human remains, but some senators critical of the plan

MDA said it has seen situations around the world where facilities have been overwhelmed by deaths and it doesn’t want that to happen in Minnesota.

The property, located at 1415 L’Orient Street in St. Paul, is about five acres with a building of about 71,000 square feet.

The purchase agreement says the state paid $5,475,000 for the property, but MDA Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis said Tuesday that the state has budgeted up to $6.9 million for the property with the difference going toward any changes needed to accommodate what the building will be used for.

The deal also drew criticism from some veterans in the funeral home industry, who insist they have plenty of space and facilities statewide, including in St. Paul, "I understand none of us know where this thing is going to go but as an industry and talking with my colleagues, we are prepared," replied John Jaskulske with Willwerscheid Funeral Home.

Jaskulske walked around and pointed out a building that currently houses a couple of hearses, but could easily be converted into a refrigerated holding space overnight. He contends it would be much less expensive, "plus we’ve already secured refrigerator trucks if necessary, we did our due diligence, we secured as many as we need," said Jaskulske.

There are more portable storage trucks at the ready, at the Hennepin County Medical Examiners Office and with the Ramsey County Medical Examiners office, "you don’t need to build a facility that is possibly never going to be used – never," Jaskulske said.