Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Feasibility Study For New Oconee County Animal Shelter Questioned By Animal Control Advisory Board

Key Meeting Feb. 28

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.

Tevis Findings

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.

Benko 2/8/2017

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.

Cost Estimates

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.

OCO: Animal Control Advisory Board 2 8 2017 Complete from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Xardox said...

Repairing a facility built in a drainage swale which floods would be folly.
An acceptable replacement is a prime issue with Oconee residents.
Seems like a lot of money. But then, this is simply one of many issues ignored while all attention has been directed north of Butler Crossing for a while now.
Three million here, three million there...

Anonymous said...

This below is the type of nonsense our hard working animal control staff has to deal with. I fully support them and appreciate their dedication.


Anonymous said...

How many animals a month does the Animal Shelter handle? Are they strays or do people give them up because they cannot handle or care for them? Are all animals at the shelter from Oconee county? Hopefully, we as taxpayers are not responsible for animals from outside the county

Zippity said...

The advisory committee seems more anti-animal than pro animal. $2.9 million is not unreasonable for a facility like this. Adopting animals out is a much better goal than euthanasia. A facility that floods is not appropriate. We need a state of the art facility. The current facility does not even have an isolation area. I really don't understand why the advisory board would not support the need for a staff meeting room or the adoption area. It would be great if we did not need such a facility, but until GA institutes licensing requirements with spay/neuter emphasized, we will have excess dogs and cats that need homes.

Lee Becker said...

I have data from three years, ending in 2015, on intake at the Animal Shelter in this post:


I know that people can surrender animals at the shelter and that animals are taken to the shelter when picked up by Animal Control.

As far as I know, the Shelter only takes animals from Oconee County. I will try to confirm that.


Anonymous said...

The shelter flooded during a 50 year rain event. Much of the issue can be corrected with proper grading. To say the current shelter would take more than 2.9 million to upgrade is a joke. Even if the decision is made to build new, how long to you think it will take to raise 2.9 million. The Bogart library is just now getting an expansion.

Take the 750 in the current SPLOST and correct the immediate problems. Start working during next SPLOST to start saving for the $3 million new shelter. Also, who volunteers to have the shelter next door. You just thought Calls Creek group was upset.

Anonymous said...

Seems like 50 year and 100 year rain events have been occurring often over the past few years. Have been in the animal shelter. Grading isn't going to fix the main building issues. Too much other building issues affecting the animals, volunteers and staff.

Despite Clair Hamilton's ridiculous objections (yes, there needs to be a conference/training room in the shelter Claire), it's time for a first class facility. According the Lance Haynie, the county's looking at major growth ;)

A way to save cost is locating a new shelter on existing county property, such as the recycling center/Heritage Park property. Not county facility needs to be in Watkinsville.

Anonymous said...

"Claire Hamilton is always so negative and combative, constantly arguing against any proposal from staff...why is she on the Animal Control Advisory Board? Who nominated/appointed her? I'm still aghast by her firm stance on tethering dogs. She brings nothing worthwhile to the board and poorly represents the county." and "The advisory committee seems more anti-animal than pro animal."
Claire owns pure bred show dogs. Some others on this advisory board may also. It almost seems like they are for destroying any mutt animals.

Anonymous said...

"Claire owns pure bred show dogs. Some others on this advisory board may also. It almost seems like they are for destroying any mutt animals."

I hope that her business interests do not color Hamilton's positions regarding the animal shelter, adoption program, etc. We already have enough potential conflicts of interest with various county board members (Abouhamdan, Waller, Jamie Boswell, etc.). Claire Hamilton is so aggressively negative to the staff and its programs, it's off-putting. Her advocating tethering is mind numbing. My family & I have been nothing but impressed by the animal shelter staff & volunteers; they deserve our respect and support.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has visited the current shelter can easily see that the facility is outdated, small, and on a piece of land that is not conducive to its role. There is no room in which to meet or offer training. The place floods when it rains. And the Foster program has been an incredible aid in re-homing stray animals--and in providing care and exposure for those in the shelter. I cannot believe that the Advisory Board is so negative. Perhaps if the facility had room, the Board could meet there and be more involved in welfare than in opposing progress.

Anonymous said...

Who is Lance Haynie. Major issues can't be fixed for less than 2.9 million. New shelter is many years away. Fix the problems!!
Otherwise you spend the next 10 to 15 years in these terrible conditions.

Lee Becker said...

Animal Control Department Director Vickers today me today (2/16/2017) that the Shelter does take animals (she mentioned cats) from outside the county if it has space. This is required by the Shelter's agreement to be a PetSmart’s Adoption Center.

Vickers said "The volunteers clean and show the cats while PetSmart provides food, litter, toys, cleaning supplies, and all the items needed to run the Center at no cost to the taxpayers of Oconee County."

The Shelter also receives a $50 adoption fee for each animal.

I have not yet received update intake figures.


Anonymous said...

Was the agreement with Petsmart approved by the BOC? It would seem we as county residents are subsidizing a for profit business, if only with advertising of these events. As for the $50 adoption fee, how much does it cost to prepare the animals for adoption? I feel sure to put them up for adoption they must be neutered and all shots must be up to date. I believe from published reports Athens-Clarke county does not take felines at their facility and I also saw a report of Jackson county opening their first shelter this past week. It would seem our county is way ahead of the curve. Also, I do not remember all the conflict between the Advisory Board and the Director until the mission of the shelter was expanded by this current director.

Lee Becker said...

I am trying to learn more about the PetSmart agreement.
The conflict between the Animal Control Advisory Board and the staff has included a variety if issues, including the foster program.

Anonymous said...

If you’d read the paper or contacted the shelter, you’d learn the shelter not only flooded during the “50 year rain event”, but every time there is a heavy rain. Every time water comes into the shelter or floods the property, it’s written down. The “50 year rain event” reached 30 feet into the building; the lobby, director’s office, officer’s area, and hallways up to the cat room. There was standing water and if there was anything on the floor, it was damaged or ruined. The shelter is about 25 feet below the road, so where do you think the water’s going to go? Have you been to the shelter to see how it’s set up? It will take more than a few sand bags and grading to fix the structural and land problems. The current location was built up, but it’s still in a hole. Do you even know where the shelter is located and when was the last time you were there to see the problems?
According to the quotes from the paper or blog, the feasibility study showed it would cost more to fix the problem than to construct new. The director has nickeled and dimed the “immediate problems” for years and somethings can’t be fixed.
The shelter wouldn’t go into a neighborhood and it’s foolish to think it would. There are a number of county owned properties the new shelter could go and there are a number of ways to raise money through donations and corporate support.
According to Jeff Benko, the county’s administrator, Oconee has high standards and the current facility doesn’t live up to what the public expects.

Anonymous said...

Don't know where Anon 10:30 is coming from. Is that you Claire Hamilton??

All county shelters charge an adoption fee.

Petsmart works with all of the area county shelters. No subsidies there; just a good community partner. Many dog food companies partner with shelters too.

Athens-Clarke absolutely takes in cats and has just invested a ton on their facility and staff, spending $1.2 million alone on a shelter EXPANSION.


Oconee has a good rep, but is in the middle of the pack budget and resource-wise.

Anonymous said...

Define heavy rain. So the shelter has flooded during every heavy rain since it was built? 2.9 million can not fix any issue there? What a joke.

Unknown said...

PerSmart Manager here. Feel free to contact me at the store next week if you like. There is no requirement from us that they take in animals from outside the county. We asked that if there were ever a time where the shelter space in our store were empty, they would share the space to allow animals from other shelters to be made available. I believe this would result in an interagency transfer to bring in cats from another group. This certainly isn't a requirement, but rather a request to share the space if necessary.

Let'sGoOconee! said...

Anon 1:38: Respectfully, please visit the shelter.

The current building has simply outlived its usefulness. Maybe the current building could be repurposed for another county use, but it would definitely need some major work, interior and exterior. An animal shelter with standing water is not a pleasant or even sanitary place to be.

Buildings have a lifespan. Some can be renovated and upgraded; sometimes the cost and energy needed for renovation is much more than a new facility. For example, the Oconee Library has great staff & programs, but the building is close to being too small. Sooner than later, a new library will be needed. The current library could be repurposed for another county function.

Anonymous said...

If possible please provide a list of county properties that would be available for use for a new animal shelter. If I understand correctly the consultant indicated it should be on sewer . Just interested in what the county currently owns where sewer is available.

Lee Becker said...

I don't know of such a list. I will see what I can learn.

jackboo2 said...

Lee, when were the 750k SPLOST funds for the animal shelter voted on by the Oconee County residents?

Lee Becker said...

Voters approved SPLOST 2015 on Nov. 4, 2014. Collection began late in 2015.