Tevis Architects’ recommendation that Oconee County replace its Animal Shelter with a new facility costing an estimated $2.9 million met with some resistance from members of the Animal Control Advisory Board at its meeting last week.
Board member Claire Hamilton said the price tag “is way too high...It is a pretty big price tag for the taxpayers.”
Board member Philip Freshley questioned the projections that Tevis Consulting made showing the number of intakes going up as the county’s population grows. Freshly noted that the data show a decline in intakes locally after a peak in 2014.
Board Chairman Tom Beacorn said he questioned the inclusion of space that would support the adoption program run by the Animal Shelter as well as staff meeting space in the proposed new facility.
Animal Control Department Director Catlyn Vickers told the Board members they should come to the Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 28 to hear a presentation from Tevis on the feasibility study it conducted for the county.
She also encouraged interested citizens to attend that meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The county paid Tevis Architects, with offices in Atlanta, $10,000 to evaluate the existing Animal Control facility on Branch Road in the far south of the county and offer recommendations on what can be done to improve and expand the facility.
In a report dated Jan. 9, 2017, Tevis said that the while renovation of the existing facility was possible, “it would be far less costly to build a new facility.”
Tevis estimates that it will cost $2.9 million to build and equip a 9,300-square-foot building to replace the existing facility and meet the county’s needs through 2040.
The report said that a drainage swale runs through the current site, causing flooding, and that a modern facility requires sewage service, rather than the current septic system. County sewage service is only available in the north of the county.
The firm did not recommend a location for the facility or include the price of land in the cost estimate.
Advisory Board Meeting
Vickers introduced discussion of the Tevis report at the Feb. 8 meeting by saying “I believe the consensus is that everyone agreed–all the Board members agreed–that we need a new shelter at a new location if the feasibility study backed it.
“Well, the feasibility study does back it,” she added.
She said the next step is for the Advisory Board to tell the Board of Commissioners that it should move forward with planning for and construction of the facility.
The comments of the Board members indicated they are not yet ready to make that recommendation to the Board of Commissioners.
Adoption Program Questioned
The Animal Control Department has run an adoption program, staffed by volunteers, out of the Animal Shelter since 2014.
That program has enjoyed only begrudging support from the Animal Control Advisory Board from its inception.
Chairman Beacorn restated that less than complete support at the meeting last week.
“I’m not comfortable yet to say that we’re an adoption service,” he said. “It’s part of the program. It’s not 50 percent of the program,” he said.
He said his uncertainty about space needs was based in part on his uncertainty about the role the adoption program should play in the activities of the Animal Shelter.
Freshley said the estimate of costs in the Tevis report “is pretty dead on.” He said he did not know how to assess the costs of the equipment, “but putting $170 a square foot in a commercial building like that, before you start putting equipment in, that’s not far off.”
Hamilton, who has been a consistent critic of the Animal Shelter, asserted that the number of intakes of animals at shelters around the country is declining. She said that supported her argument that the county didn’t need to spend $2.9 million on a new facility.
County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told the Advisory Board that the shelter “is a paramount issue” for the Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners will look at the Advisory Board’s “interpretation of the feasibility study," Benko said.
“The Oconee County Commissioners understand that the citizens have higher expectations for services than other counties,” he said. “They want to build something that is quality.”
I was not able to attend the meeting of the Animal Control Advisory Board last week.
The meeting took place at the Community Center in Veteran’s Park.
Sarah Bell did attend the meeting and made a video recording.
That video is below. The discussion of the Tevis report dominated the meeting. Discussion begins at 2:45 in the video.