The fight to keep the Oregon State Police crime lab in Pendleton is over.
Fortis Constriction Inc. of Portland began foundation work of the new lab at 612 Airport Road, directly south of the local state police command. The city of Pendleton on Aug. 31 issued Fortis a building permit for the foundation work of the 9,515-square-foot facility with a total value shy of $1.25 million.
Oregon State Police Forensic Services Division operates labs in Bend, Central Point, Pendleton, Portland and Springfield, but the Pendleton lab has been on the state budget chopping block for years. The facilities at 405 S.E. Eighth St. are cramped, cannot handle all types of forensic work and have a gnat infestation.
State police in 2014 reported it was seeking a fully functional lab in Pendleton for the 2017-19 biennium. The conceptual plan for the new lab includes work space for physical evidence, fingerprint analysis and chemical work. The plan also calls for scientist offices and a vehicle bay. Pendleton permit technician Julie Chase emphasized those plans could change at this early stage.
State Sen. Bill Hansell of Athena helped lead the fight in the Legislature to keep the lab in Pendleton. State police did not want to close or move the lab, he said, and Eastern Oregon lawmakers and district attorneys made the case for the lab to stay.
“Eastern Oregon will continue to have a crucial component of our criminal justice system,” Hansell said, which means investigations and prosecutions can avoid delays that would come with shipping evidence across the state to the other labs.
Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus also was part of the effort to keep the lab in Pendleton. He said the need for the lab was a common topic among his fellow prosecutors in Eastern Oregon.
Primus also said the new, better lab could entice forensic talent to consider careers in Eastern Oregon, which has been another obstacle for the forensic division.
Lora Elliott, Pendleton permit technician, said the city will issue a second permit when Fortis is ready to start putting up the building.