Forensic lab at UNA closes due to funding cuts

Students, faculty, staff and community members bid farewell Thursday to a local forensic lab on the UNA campus that administrators were forced to close last month because of cuts in state funding.

Selwyn Jones, director of the lab for 19 years, said Alabama legislators were not able to secure the $850,000 needed to keep the forensic labs in Florence, Jacksonville and Dothan open through the end of the fiscal year.

He said he and four other lab workers will not lose their jobs due to the office closing, but will be moved into various positions at labs in Huntsville and Birmingham next month.

“I’m really disappointed that the lab is closing because I’ve really enjoyed working here,” he said. “Most people are disappointed about losing the service to the area. This will be a major inconvenience on them as they will now have to go to Birmingham or Huntsville.”

Materials and equipment from the forensic lab, which first opened 37 years ago, will merge with regional labs in Huntsville, Birmingham, Auburn and Montgomery. The Florence office officially closed its doors June 30, but workers will continue preparing for the move through the end of July.

Local law enforcement and other agencies that used the forensic lab were shocked to learn about the lab’s closing, said Juliet Smith, administrative supportive assistant.

“I have people coming to me saying they don’t understand but telling us how much they appreciate the lab,” she said. “I’m really surprised and heartbroken about it.”

The Florence lab, which is a satellite office of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce teamed up to allow area high school science teachers to take extra lab equipment and supplies for use at their schools.

Rachael Nelson, a science teacher at Florence High School, picked up glassware, pipettes, pin lights and storage bins to furnish her AP biology laboratory in the fall.

“I’m very thankful because my lab is not as full as I’d like it to be so this will help greatly so I don’t have to buy as much in the new year,” she said.