Jefferson County Animal Resource Center

The location of the new Jefferson County Animal Resource Center in House Springs during a 2018 open house.

Jefferson County animal enthusiasts finally have something to wag their tails about.

Construction work began this month on the county’s new Animal Resource Center in House Springs, with an opening date likely next spring.

The Jefferson County Council voted unanimously Aug. 10 to award a $1,246,692 contract to Boyer Building and Design Inc. in De Soto to remodel and expand the former Hillside Presbyterian Church site at 4848 Hwy. 30 into an animal control center that will replace the current, outdated facility on 7105 Shelter Road off Wedde Road in Barnhart.

Officials said the new facility will be about 2 1/2 times larger than the current site.

The County Council voted in late 2016 to spend $675,000 for the 7.9-acre former church property.

After a series of stops and starts – mostly stops – in which an ambitious plan was scaled back due to budgetary concerns and plans were drawn and redrawn and bids sought and then rejected, County Services Director Eric Larson said the project really is a go this time.

“Crews from Boyer already have started preliminary work inside the building,” he said.

Boyer’s bid for the project, which was the lowest of eight, came in favorable for the county, Larson said.

“We ended up budgeting about $1.5 million for the total cost, including the design work, and this will allow us to meet that goal,” he said.

Larson said Bacon Commercial Design of Crystal City drew up the architectural plans and VonArx Engineering of Hillsboro performed the engineering work.

“We have three local, professional firms involved in this project, and they’ve worked with us every step of the way,” Larson said.

He said once the new center is open, the major problem with the county’s animal control program will be resolved.

“We’ve been out of compliance with the (federal) Department of Agriculture on our old shelter for nearly 20 years,” Larson said of the current facility, which was built in the early 1970s. “The county is very fortunate the Department of Agriculture has allowed us to continue to operate. The new facility will address those concerns, and allow us room for expansion as the county continues to grow and, with it, the demand for increased services.”

The job of converting a church into an animal resource center is challenging, he said.

“But, looking at the plans and the drawings, I believe our design professionals proved themselves to be up to the task,” Larson said. “I believe this will be a facility the county will be proud of.”

Much of the challenge, he said, has been how to convert the church’s sanctuary area.

“What I think people will see when they enter the building is a courtyard, kind of like a shopping mall, with rooms to both sides,” Larson said. “They’ll be able to see the cats and dogs and other animals we have up for adoption through windows.”

Other areas of the church, such as classrooms and the nursery, are more easily adapted.

Larson said the 10,333-square-foot church building will be used to hold 12 large dogs and 12 smaller dogs, triple the number of canines the current shelter has space for.

The new shelter also will have space to house 48 adoptable cats, twice the current capacity, he said.

“The cats will be in kind of a ‘cat condo’ that you see in the large pet stores, so they have room to roam,” Larson said.

Boyer is building a structure on the back of the building to hold 30 dogs kept in quarantine.

“These are dogs that have been picked up for biting, and we’re determining their health,” Larson said. “Some are feral and we need to determine whether they are well. The current shelter has 16 kennels, but we’re not able to keep them quarantined from the other dogs.”

Larson said another nice feature of the new building will be an office for the county’s contract veterinarian.

“The initial plans had the possibility of us hiring our own veterinarian, but that was eliminated during the rescaling process,” Larson said. “But having a room the veterinarian will be able to use to examine our animals means they won’t usually have to be taken off-site to the veterinarian’s office, which is how it’s usually done now.”

The design also includes “get acquainted” rooms for prospective adoptive families to interact with the adoptable pets before making a commitment, one for dogs and the other for cats.

“We’ll also have a room for our other animals,” Larson said. “We take in all different kinds of animals, not just dogs and cats. Small mammals, birds and even fish, they’ll have their own separate room.”

Larson said Public Works Director Jason Jonas was instrumental in moving the project forward.

“He and his team did a lot of the hard work, laying the groundwork for preparing the bids and giving advice,” Larson said. “This is wonderful to see it start to come together after four years.”

Larson said he doesn’t know about the fate of the current facility in Barnhart once the new center is open.

“That will be something for the administration and the County Council to determine,” he said.