Friday Mar 29 2013
North Auburn Animal Shelter
Some question $23.6M price tag
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Media Life columnist
2000 Grand Jury report outlined need for new facility
The Journal is publishing a two-part series looking into the cost of a $23.6 million animal shelter proposed for Placer County and to be located in North Auburn.
Friday: Big price tag raises questions
Sunday: Balancing need vs. costs
How does Placer County animal shelter compare?
With plans underway for a $23.6 million animal shelter in Placer County, the Journal compared its size and cost to other Northern California shelters.
The North Auburn facility is smaller in scale than neighboring Sacramento County’s animal shelter, constructed in 2009 on seven acres of county-owned land on Bradshaw Road. The Sacramento County shelter was built for $22.9 million. It includes a main building of 39,000 square feet, 3,400-square-foot clinic and 1,800-square-foot barn. The cost included demolition and clean-up of the old site. Also rolled into the shelter is a two-acre dog park.
Responding to Journal questions about the comparative size and scope of the Sacramento shelter to the proposed Auburn facility, Sacramento public information officer Zeke Holst said the new Bradshaw Road shelter has room for up to 1,000 animals to stay in the facility – compared to the former shelter’s capacity of 414 animals. Each of the 318 flexible living spaces for cats and dogs can hold one to six animals, depending on the size.
Berkeley opened its new, Dona Spring Municipal Animal Shelter on Feb. 2. Financed in part by a voter-approved bond measure, the 11,700-square-foot shelter cost $12.4 million, including purchase of the site.
Is Placer County shelter a no-kill one?
Animal Control program manager Mike Winters said that the Placer County facility is not a “no-kill” shelter – which he defines as a location that chooses what it takes in to reduce the number of animals it has to euthanize.
“Government shelters are, by law, mandated to take in stray animals,” Winters said. “Obviously, everyone’s goal is to be a ‘no-kill shelter.’ It’s what we strive for here and we won’t euthanize for space.”
If the Auburn shelter is full, the county will look for ways to get an animal to a rescue group, the SPCA in Placer or Sacramento counties. Animals can also be transferred between the county-run shelters in Auburn and Lake Tahoe, he said.
Rescue groups have built up particularly close partnerships over the years, including the Auburn Area Animal Rescue Foundation, Angels Rescuing Critters and Field Haven, which takes in feral cats.
“Quite frankly, they take in almost as many animals as we take in,” Winters said.
Last year, the North Auburn shelter took in a total of 2,057 animals – including 1,231 dogs and 826 cats. Of that total, 253 dogs and 176 cats were adopted out. Another 564 animals were returned to owners.
At the same time, 539 animals – 209 dogs and 330 cats – were euthanized. That total included 161 feral – or judged to be wild – cats. Other reasons for euthanization included illness and untreatable behavior problems.
“We didn’t euthanize any healthy animals,” Winters said.
How much is too much?
Hard questions are being asked about the estimated cost of a proposed Placer County Animal Shelter in North Auburn that has risen from an initial $5 million in 2006 to $12 million as late as December 2011 and now is projected to be $23.6 million.
Facility Services Department staff is saying that the numbers are still estimates, based on financially conservative projections and could go lower.
The proposal to go further forward on an increasingly costly project won guarded support earlier this month from all five supervisors.
But a move into the project’s pre-contract-bid “request for qualifications” phase to select three top rated firms to develop proposals gained approval only after questioning from Supervisors Jack Duran and Jennifer Montgomery on both project construction and operational costs.
Duran was perhaps the project funding projections’ harshest critic, questioning the estimate and citing a potential price per square foot of $657. The project costs don’t include property purchase. The site is on land at the Placer County Government Center that the county already owns.
Facility Services – the county’s capital improvements arm – will be working toward a September target to present supervisors with a bid proposal from a contractor to both design and build what is envisioned to be a 35,000-square-foot animal facility on a 4.5-acre site. The site is on land across from the existing 41-year-old shelter, which is destined to be torn down once the new facility is operational.
Located off Richardson Drive in the Placer County Government Center, the envisioned project is to be almost four times as large as the current 9,300 square-foot structure.
Joel Swift, deputy director of Facility Services, said that the project has been the subject of “considerable compromise” but plans developed so far are for a shelter that is the most cost-effective project possible.
“Although this project is in no way gold-plated, this is a large-scale capital project,” Swift said.
Swift also highlighted the pent-up demand for a new facility. The current shelter was constructed soon after the county was deeded the DeWitt Hospital
property in mid-1972 by a cash-strapped state in the process of closing down its mental institutions.
“When you think about it, a lot has changed in animal care and with the population of the county as well,” Swift said. “So there really is no question of the need for this facility.”
Capital Improvements Manager Rob Unholz said that with the animal shelter project currently at the program level, staff and consultant Indigo Hammond & Playle Architects are attempting to be realistic with costs because of future uncertainties in the construction industry that could have an impact on prices. If construction activity picks up in the area, costs for the animal shelter will too, he said.
“We’re trying to be realistically conservative so we don’t come back to the board with egg on our faces,” Unholz said.
With a recent uptick in the state economy, commodity prices have started to rise with demand – and bid prices in Southern California for some projects have already proven not as favorable to projects, he said.
“Our anticipation is that things will come in lower but there are a lot of unknowns at this stage, particularly with the lack of a design,” Unholz said.
Questioning by Supervisor Jack Duran was particularly pointed during a Feb. 4 meeting of the board that ultimately resulted in unanimous approval to move forward on a project. It’s tentatively targeted for completion in 2016. A request for qualifications is scheduled to be released in April to determine the three most qualified design-build firms to move forward with.
“I’ve looked at the $23.6 million total cost at $657 a square foot, which for a public building is pretty expensive,” Duran said. “And even if we’re looking just at the program level estimate at $18 million, that’s $514 a square foot.”
Swift said the $18 million is a design-and-build contract estimate, which means it also includes architect’s as well as construction fees. Program level costs provide estimates based on costs per square foot and before more detailed estimates are made using a preliminary design with a floor plan.
“Our cost estimate on the program level is around $13 million on construction,” Swift said. “That puts it at about $375 a square foot for construction costs.
It’s still much higher than any office building you might anticipate but because of the type of construction, that’s what’s driving that cost component.”
Those costs now being used are based on estimates by Indigo Hammond and Playle Architects and a UC Davis team that looked at costs “across the board” at similar types of facilities on the West Coast and as far east as Colorado, Swift said.
Swift said that when a contractor is chosen, he’s hopeful that the cost estimates will come down.
“We have some wiggle room and we’re hopeful we can come back with a great proposal,” Swift said.
Duran said he’s also hopeful that the price for the building will come down.
“At either $657 or $514 a square foot, that’s huge,” he said.
Adoptions the goal
In the second phase, the county will use a request for proposals process to select one of the three firms to design and build the animal shelter.
Supervisors agreed to pay the other two firms not selected $50,000 apiece, with any ideas in their plans to be owned by the county and available to incorporate into the final animal shelter design.
Swift said the design has a goal of minimizing the length of stay for animals in the shelter and maximizing adoptions of healthy, less-stressed pets.
The project design-build firms will be looking at a contract that includes indoor and outdoor dog kennels. Dog kennels are currently only indoors. Plans call for isolation housing and, behavior assessment rooms. A veterinary care area includes exam rooms, an isolation area for sick animals, surgery area and recovery room. Outside the main building, a barn and paddock is to be built, as well as a covered exercise yard and feral cat pens.
Demand for a new animal shelter grew after a 2000 grand jury report deemed the Auburn shelter “inadequate to meet the existing and future needs of this rapidly growing county.” At that time, the jury reported that Animal Control management stated that completion of a new facility was expected by 2006.
The new Auburn facility’s capacity is an estimated 68 dogs and 92 cats, with a barn for farm animals.
Initially, the need for a new shelter was seen as a South Placer one that Roseville and the Placer County SPCA was willing to fill – with funding also set aside to modernize Auburn’s location. A site owned by Roseville on Phillip Road near the Roseville Energy Park was identified by 2008 and agreements were in place for building there, at an estimated cost of $15 million. According to county reports, funding was to be provided through cooperative agreements among the county and the cities of Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln.
The Placer County SPCA was also onboard at that time, with plans to relocate next to the new shelter in Roseville.
Roseville decided not to move forward with Placer County because the two sides couldn’t develop a plan, city spokesman Brian Jacobsen said. One of the issues involved intake of farms animals, something that Roseville’s environs don’t have and rural areas near Auburn do, Jacobsen said.
“We could not come to something mutually agreeable and decided instead on a public-private partnership (with the Placer SPCA), with that group putting up the initial monetary investment,” he said.
Leilani Fratis, CEO of the Roseville SPCA, said that by the end of 2011, her group had finalized purchase of a piece of property in Roseville to move to and is currently going through the schematic design phase to design and build a new animal-care campus. The SPCA has a $600,000 annual contract with
Roseville, for shelter and adoption services.
Fratis said the estimated cost of the Placer County facility is not surprising.
“What I always know is that there is a lot of sticker shock as we come to realize that these facilities need to be hospital-quality – not office buildings,” Fratis said. “They need to be built with durable materials that are long-lasting and resistant to all the wear and tear involved with the care of animals.”
The new facility also represents an evolution in the way animals are held at facilities like North Auburn’s, she said.
“They’re no longer just held for a couple of days and euthanized,” Fratis said. “They’re held in animal-care facilities sometimes for weeks or months until they find a home. So animal care facilities are designed in such a way as to keep animals emotionally, behaviorally and physically healthy.”
State changes spur shift
The traditional roles of “dog-catcher” and “pound” took a turn to codified, humane treatment of animals in 1999 when the Hayden Bill updated and expanded the rights and duties of animal shelters.
The bill determined that “all depositaries of live animals have a duty to provide them with necessary and prompt veterinary care, nutrition and shelter, and to treat them humanely.” The bill expanded the minimum impound time from 72 hours to six business days in most instances and put in place a requirement for animals to be released to non-profit animal rescue or adoption organizations.
The bill also bans euthanization if an animal can be adopted into a suitable home – including a treatable animal that is not initially adoptable but could be “with reasonable efforts.”
Lynn Howe, of New Hope Animal Foundation, said her group – founded in 2004, is part of what has become a complete transition in the philosophy of how to care for homeless animals, pet behavior rehabilitation and the importance of finding new homes.
New Hope Animal Foundation partners with the county, providing 35 active volunteers and another 65 who drop in on an as-needed basis.
“We are not euthanizing for space,” she said. “Which means our rescue group and others are working hard to ensure that, by taking on tasks like exercising and helping train animals at the shelter.”
Howe said an in-out air system, which provides for no recirculation of air, is “huge” in preventing illness inside a new building. The planned operating room is another essential component, she said.
The medical care and better housing will help dogs and cats be better able to withstand the somewhat harsh realities of being in a shelter without a loving family, Howe said. And that will result in more attractive and healthier pets that are ready for adoption, she said.
“Auburn is an antiquated facility with deteriorating infrastructure,” Howe said. “That adds additional stress.”
Howe said costs versus needs have already been studied and balanced. She provided input on best practices for the shelter and would have liked to see a larger facility.
“Size is a huge component,” Howe said. “They haven’t developed a shelter to accommodate all the animals in Placer County that need homes. They’ll be dependent on rescue groups continuing with the same capacity. It’s a significant compromise.”