PW Times Article on New Animal Shelter

Delays, cost-saving cuts to new animal shelter spark concerns

Prince William Times Article

“Unacceptable” is the word Supervisor Victor Angry used to describe the Prince William County Animal Shelter after touring the facility Friday. But Angry was quick to praise the shelter staff for doing the best they could in a cramped building that’s 44 years old and clearly in need of a major upgrade.

“We can talk about it all day, but when you see it, it makes it a reality,” said Angry, D-Neabsco, who was elected in April 2019 but had not previously visited the animal shelter. “It’s a very clean environment, but it’s very packed in there. It’s too tight for what they are doing.”

The animal shelter, built in 1975, has been slated for replacement since about 2015. That’s when the former board of supervisors began discussing a new shelter after allocating about $30,000 to upgrade the facility’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system after it was partly blamed for an outbreak of the highly contagious calicivirus, also known as FCV, that forced the shelter to euthanize 73 cats.

In 2017, the supervisors voted to spend $15.1 million to demolish the existing shelter, at 14807 Bristow Road near Independent Hill, and build a new one about four times its size on the same site.

At the time, a county audit of the animal shelter showed the shelter was taking in as many as 4,000 animals a year but euthanizing about 20 percent of them, sometimes due to overcrowding.

The design the supervisors approved for the new shelter, dubbed “option C,” is intended to address that problem by not only providing more space but also by following the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ guidelines for standards of care in animal shelters.

Angry’s visit came about 10 days after the supervisors learned construction on the new shelter will be delayed until at least late 2021 because of higher-than-expected costs. The lowest bid came in about $13.2 million, which is $2.7 million more than the $10.5 million the county allotted for general construction.

Now, county staff is working with the lowest-bidding contractor to make cost-saving adjustments that are intended not to significantly alter the new animal shelter’s features, according to Tom Bruun, director of the county’s department of public works.

Changes include using a flat instead of sloped roof, omitting a barn for surrendered farm animals, installing a less costly HVAC system, paving less of the gravel parking lot, buying stormwater credits instead of building a retention pond, trimming allowances for cost overruns and switching out some of the interior finishes that were recommended by the animal shelter expert the county hired to consult on the new shelter, Bruun said.

As an example, Bruun said the shelter will use ceramic-faced concrete blocks for the dog kennel walls instead of glazed block, which is preferred because it is easier to clean and resists bacteria.

Regarding the shelter’s overall delay – it was initially hoped to be under construction in 2019 – Bruun said rising costs were a challenge at each stage of the design process.

“The biggest issue was managing the project to keep it within budget, as the cost of construction rose significantly in this area and nationwide,” Bruun said in an email Monday.

“At each point, costs exceeded the budget, and value engineering was performed to bring the project back in budget,” Bruun said. “…Some of these [value engineering] sessions were time-consuming and required the designer to redesign and tighten up the building.”

Bruun stressed the shelter will still meet ASV guidelines. But some supervisors and residents, alike, are raising concerns about the delays and the possible ramifications of all the cost-cutting.

Melissa Korzuch, president of the Prince William SPCA, says her group worries the new shelter will be too small and that the county won’t be able to afford key items that have been cut, including the barn and equipment for the veterinarian suite.

“The shelter we wanted to have built … is not the shelter we are getting. It’s been reduced dramatically and we are disappointed,” Korzuch said Monday. “Our worry is that the things you cut out, you may never be able to get funding for.”

Supervisor Jeanine Lawson and Supervisor Margaret Franklin joined Angry in expressing similar concerns this week. All said they are still talking with county staff to get a better understanding of the cuts.

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