The new leaders of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter want to overcome the turmoil and discord of the past few months and focus on the $3.5 million facility that sits empty and bare, but tantalizingly close to completion.
On a tour of the new animal shelter Thursday, they showed off the front rooms where people can visit with a dog they may want to adopt, as opposed to seeing the animal in an old-style, chain-link kennel.
But also apparent to the eye are thin cracks that have appeared on the foundation floor, symbolic of the controversies that have undermined support for the shelter board.
"We're trying to endeavor to get to the bottom of the issue," Bill Anderson, the new board co-chairman, said of the "disconcerting" floor cracks throughout the building.
Anderson, who's been on the shelter board only a few weeks and just took over the reins along with co-chairwoman Sandra Versteegh, said he realizes directors have their work cut out to restore trust in the nonprofit organization.
The shelter has been wracked by high leadership turnover, fundraising failures, complaints of a lack of transparency and a high-profile controversy over animal adoptions.
"It's been mistake after mistake," he said, adding "things weren't thought through" and the timing of some decisions was poor.
But he expressed confidence that the money will be secured from donors to finish the interior of the 7,500-square-foot facility before the end of the year, and that it won't sit much longer as a white-elephant reminder of failed expectations.
"We want to bring people back in the fold," he said, "We want to turn the page. Let's focus on the mission. This really is meant to be a jewel for the community."
He said that despite the setbacks, the shelter continues to fulfill its mission, employ a dedicated staff and maintain an enthusiastic corps of volunteers.
Things apparently are looking up. "We've had several donors step up to the plate in the last week or so who want very much to contribute" to get the new building open, he said.
Anderson estimates it will take a minimum of "several hundred thousand" dollars to complete the building interior, including kennels, toilets, a phone system, an acoustical ceiling and other work.
But he said it likely will be another six weeks before an audit of the shelter's finances is complete, cost estimates for the remaining work are developed and a capital campaign is outlined.
"We want to create something that's self-sustaining," he said.
As a developer and manager of high-end hotel and resorts around the world, including financially distressed properties, Anderson said he is up to the challenge of finishing the troubled shelter building.
The airy, new structure on Westside Road is intended to replace the current cramped, cinder-block building built in 1960 next to the city's corporation yard, across the street from the new building.
Land acquisition and construction were financed largely through a $2.9 million bequest from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife, Charlotte. The shelter was supposed to be complete last fall.
But a further $1 million fund-raising campaign stalled, leaving the organization unable to complete construction and provide a future operating cushion.
The animal shelter has been beset by the turnover of four salaried executive directors in about as many years, including Julie Seal, who resigned suddenly last week. There also has been dissent on the volunteer board, with seven directors leaving in 2011.