It took five years and a day, but Jefferson County’s new Animal Resource Center is open.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the new center, 4848 Hwy. 30, in House Springs on Dec. 28, and it opened for business on Monday.
The Jefferson County Council agreed on Dec. 27, 2016, to spend $675,000 to buy the former Hillside Presbyterian Church property and convert it into the resource center. The purchase price included the church building and its 7.9-acre lot.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, County Services Director Eric Larson, whose department includes animal control, noted the long journey to open the building.
“I’m a Cubs fan,” he told the crowd of about 100 people who attended the ceremony. “Go ahead and boo. You Cardinals fans are used to your team contending for the playoffs every year. But for Cubs fans, it’s wait ’til next year. I’m used to that.”
Much of the delay in opening the facility involved revisions to the renovation plans. When bids came in too high for some projects – including adding a floor in what was the church’s sanctuary – plans were scaled back, redrawn and rebid.
Larson said Jan. 3 that all the expenses to refurbish and furnish the building had not yet been totaled, but probably will be around $1.36 million.
The new facility replaces a small, aging shelter at 7105 Shelter Road in Barnhart that long had been criticized by local animal protection groups.
“Do I need to ask you how different (the new facility) is?” County Executive Dennis Gannon asked those at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This is a vast improvement.”
Gannon also recognized the animal protection group ADOPT that donated $212,000 and got the ball rolling on a new facility.
“ADOPT stands for Animals Deserving of Proper Treatment, and I think we’ve lived up to that with this new facility,” Gannon said. “I always thought I thought well of animals, but my son moved out of state and left us with his dog, a sheepdog. Life has changed for me because it’s become part of our family. I learned emotionally about what animals mean to people.”
Larson said the ADOPT donation was used to purchase “cat condos” and “dog housing units” that are far more comfortable than the cages at the former shelter.
“We can’t leave out ADOPT from this story,” he said. “People like Sarah Partney and Courtney Buchholz, they were a key part of this. We couldn’t have done it without their help.”
Feral cats are housed in a different part of the building than domestic cats, Larson said.
“If someone comes in and wants a barn cat, we can show them the feral cats,” he said.
Larson stressed that the name of the new facility, the Animal Resource Center, is intended to break with the past.
“We wanted a complete rebranding,” he said. “When you think of the old animal shelter, you thought of an old, dingy, uninviting place and we’re the bad guys. We wanted a new name that will reflect our mission – to care for our animals and help them find new homes.”
The new facility can accommodate up to 44 cats and more than 40 dogs, Larson said.
“We’ll have triple the cat capacity and double our capacity for dogs,” he said.
The new facility also has a room for smaller animals, like birds, guinea pigs and snakes.
Separate rooms will allow the public to visit with animals in a comfortable setting and an outdoor, fenced-in area allows dogs a chance to stretch their legs.
The building features faucets for hoses almost everywhere where animals will be so those areas can be cleaned easily, and a ventilation system above every cage filters odors from the building.
“It’s not going to smell like you’d think an animal shelter would smell,” Larson said.
He said the county lucked into acquiring state-of-the-art veterinary equipment from the former Brown-Mackie College in Fenton at a low cost, paying $12,500 for about $80,000 of equipment.
“We originally had planned to have an on-site veterinary clinic, but for now, we’ll just have on-call veterinary services,” Larson said. “But they’ll have a nice place to work.”
At the ceremony, Larson also recognized former County Executive Ken Waller for getting the process for the new facility started.
“He took a lot of grief for a long time about getting a better plan for an animal facility in Jefferson County,” Larson said. “A lot of thanks go out to (County Administration Director) David Courtway. After getting a lot of grief, Ken told him, ‘Find something or else.’ And he found this building.”
“This is the end of a dream,” Waller said. “This couldn’t have turned out any better than what it is. I’m thankful to the past councils, the current council and the current county executive. They could have just let these plans go, but they carried them forward.”