Campaign for $2.5M animal shelter redo in home stretch

By J.B. SMITH jbsmith@wacotrib.com Waco Tribune-Herald

City of Waco officials are asking the public to step up in the final stretch of a $2.5 million capital campaign for the Waco Animal Shelter.

The campaign has already raised an estimated $2.3 million, including private donations, foundation grants and expected contributions from local governments, including $500,000 from the city of Waco.

“I think it’s fabulous to be able to start late last year and be at this point,” said Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., who heads the campaign. “We have a broad base of support. . . . We’re trying to get anybody who hasn’t made a contribution to go ahead and do it.”

The campaign started in October and was set to end late this month, but now has been extended until late April. The project would be bid in August, with construction scheduled for fall and winter.

“A little more time makes it better,” Assistant City Manager Wiley Stem said. “This is our community’s one shot at a great shelter. We don’t want to shortchange it.”

The project will replace decades-old kennels, establish an onsite veterinary clinic and create a new Humane Society of Central Texas adoption center.

Stem said the community’s excitement about the shelter’s progress toward “no-kill” status has set a high bar for the project. He said city officials last summer were looking at a $2 million project, but they have added some upgrades to the plan.

Air conditioning

“Now that we’re into it, we’re hitting some realities,” Stem said. “We’re going to need more parking than we thought, and better drainage, and to really maximize the experience, we really need those kennels air- conditioned.”

The air conditioning would keep the interior portion of the kennels at about 85 degrees when temperatures outside are 100. Currently, the kennels have no air conditioning and only minimal heating, and they are not insulated.

The new climate-controlled kennels would improve ventilation and lower the humidity, reducing contagious diseases, Stem said.

“We’ll probably be looking for a donor for the air conditioning,” Stem said. “I think it’s a great funding opportunity.”

The kennels also would have stainless-steel cages and coated concrete floors that would be much easier to keep clean, Stem said. He said the new shelter facilities will be healthier for the animals and more pleasant for visitors.

The project also will increase the number of cages for medium- to-large dogs by 40 to a total of 128. That capacity increase buys time for dogs to be adopted or rescued, especially in spring, when the shelter gets a big influx of puppies.

The shelter in January and February had a live exit rate of 90 percent, which if sustained would qualify it as a no-kill shelter. Before the city took over the shelter in late 2012, the live exit rate was around 50 percent.

“We’re going to be at 85 percent or better from now on,” Stem said. “We’ve got great staff and a great partner in the Humane Society, but we don’t have the facility to support it.”

Stem said the shelter’s progress has made the project an easier sell.

Donations

The Rapoport Foundation, Waco Foundation and Cooper Foundation are contributing $100,000 each, and the Dallas-based Meadows Foundation has pledged $250,000. Other private donations of as much as $100,000 have helped, as have smaller donations, Stem said.

Stem also is confident that local governments will step up and contribute the share the city of Waco has asked of them based on their shelter intake. Stem has met with city managers and mayors of other cities in the county and in Marlin, which has already pledged its share of $48,969.

In all, Stem is hoping to collect $240,000 from other local cities and from McLennan County. The payments could be made over a three-year period.

“We’re really building capacity for the whole county,” Stem said. “I think generally everyone is supportive.”

The biggest challenge for the project will be relocating the animals while the kennels are under construction. The current plan is to tear down all the existing kennels at once for the sake of efficiency.

“It’s going to stress us,” Stem said.

He said the city will work with its partner local governments to find alternative holding facilities and to temporarily reduce the number of strays being taken to the shelter.

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