Waco animal shelter ready for reconstruction

Work could begin as early as next week on rebuilding the Waco Animal Shelter after Waco City Council on Tuesday awarded a $2.4 million contract to Built Wright Construction.

But the total cost of the project has now risen to $3.1 million, partly because of kennel upgrades that have yet to be bid.

City council members said they were willing to make up the difference, given recent improvements in the shelter’s operation and the success of a fundraising effort that brought in $1.4 million in private donations. Surrounding cities and McLennan County also chipped in $1 million for the project.

“I’d like to make everyone aware of how much a community effort this was,” Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said before the vote. “We wouldn’t be in this position if we hadn’t had this great collaboration.”

The city will hold a groundbreaking at 10 a.m. Friday at the shelter, 2032 Circle Road.

The existing shelter will remain open during the next year as crews raze the two main kennel buildings and replace them with a new climate-controlled one, increasing dog kennel spaces from 88 to 122.

The work also includes a new adoption center, veterinarian clinic, sidewalks, courtyard and parking lot.

Stem said a separate contract will add stainless- steel kennels at a cost of $360,000.

“We went all stainless steel because we want this to last,” Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem said, adding that the material is easy to clean. “We’ve learned over the last three years that animal health is absolutely critical. If you can’t adopt out healthy animals, adoptions start going south, and rescues won’t take your animals.”

The city also is providing Built Wright $217,000 worth of construction block that meets energy code requirements for climate-controlled buildings. The money will come out of this year’s general fund.

Built Wright, owned by Tom Wright, of Waco, donated labor and services this summer to build an enclosed “sally port” entrance to the shelter’s intake.

Stem said that contribution wasn’t a factor in selecting Built Wright for the job, but the city has had good experiences with the firm, including its construction of the South Waco Library.

The city of Waco has turned the shelter around since it took over kennel operations from the Humane Society of Central Texas in late 2012.

With more funding for staff and vaccinations, the city has improved the health of the animals. It has partnered with the Humane Society to adopt out the animals and worked with rescue groups to reduce shelter populations. Now the city is close to the 90 percent live exit rate that is required for a “no-kill shelter” designation.

Euthanasia rates

Between 2012 and 2015, annual euthanasia cases have dropped from 6,013 to 939. Intake has dropped from 10,328 to 5,993, while rescues and adoptions have increased from 2,988 to 4,390.

The city also has worked with the Animal Birth Control Clinic to increase low-cost spay-neuter operations from 10,908 to 13,507 during that period.

Carrie Kuehl, executive director of the birth control clinic, said the shelter’s success has been inspiring.

“I think our community is really lucky to be at this point, where we can even discuss renovating the shelter,” she said. “I think, because of the progress we’ve made, we can actually ask for things like appropriate climate control and kennels that we can clean easily and well. Those things aren’t luxuries. In the long term, they’ll cost less.”

The new clinic at the shelter will allow the city’s shelter veterinarian to do spay-neuter operations for shelter animals on-site, and that will be more efficient than taking them to Animal Birth Control Clinic, Kuehl said.

She said animal welfare groups, city officials and donors have shown what can be done when they work together.

“There are a lot of heroes in this,” she said.

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