Demolition marks first step to new Fresno County animal shelter

The Fresno BeeFebruary 25, 2014 

Plans for a new county animal shelter inched forward Tuesday as Fresno County supervisors voted to demolish the old Fresno County Coroner's building but withheld funds to design and build a new shelter.

Supervisors set aside $250,000 to demolish the coroner's building at Nielsen and Teilman avenues, but told county staff to return with a plan that outlines a new shelter's costs and a blueprint to quickly move ahead.

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian said she supports a proposed 8,500-square-foot animal control facility but hopes the $2.7 million cost estimate can be whittled down.

The county is mandated to provide animal control services and the facility would offer indoor shelter for dogs. Most are now kept in outdoor kennels. The county does not keep cats at the shelter.

Demolition is "an important step, but I don't want you to have to guess (costs) at budget time," said David Pomaville, Fresno County Department of Public Health director. "We need to move ahead with the design phase ... I feel we need to bring you a more complete answer of what it's going to cost."

If necessary, construction may be done in phases, he said.

Board Chairman Andreas Borgeas asked if fellow supervisors wanted to reconsider a joint project with Fresno city officials. He suggested one final discussion before the county invests millions of dollars for its own project.

County Administrative Officer John Navarrette said he opposed the idea. He said the city of Fresno has incurred higher animal control costs by staying with the Central California Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals while the county has saved money contracting with Liberty Animal Control Services and having its own facility.

He said talks broke down and a decision "was forced upon us" by the city with only two weeks until the contract with SPCA ran out in October 2012.

Other supervisors agreed with Navarrette.

"We can't let ourselves be held hostage by folks who can turn on a whim," said Supervisor Henry R. Perea.

Judy Case McNairy said that episode "took our staff a little too close to the cliff."

The county needs to build a facility but made the correct decision to use its own property and hire a contractor, said Shannon Wilson, a Fresno animal advocate.

"I would urge moving forward quickly," she said. "I liked the idea of having all the money be put aside immediately, the $2.7 million, but I understand your concerns, as long as we are moving forward."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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