The organization that runs Healdsburg's animal shelter will dissolve and hand over its unfinished facility to the Sonoma Humane Society, allowing the troubled building to finally be used for its intended purpose and fulfilling the wishes of donors.
Under an agreement announced this week, the nearly complete building is being given to the Humane Society along with the proceeds from a lawsuit that was resolved over construction and design defects in the 7,500-square-foot structure.
Humane Society officials said the transfer from the Healdsburg Animal Shelter organization could allow construction and remodeling to begin by this fall, with the hope of occupying the building in the first half of 2015.
Humane Society officials say it is uncertain how much money and work will be needed to complete the structure off Westside Road.
"It may not have all the bells and whistles, but it's important to have the animals housed overnight and to meet the public in a building, not a trailer," said Kiska Icard, Humane Society executive director.
The new shelter has sat like a white elephant, a stark reminder of the shortfall of funds and thwarted community dream to build a more welcoming and modern facility for homeless animals.
Icard said the last estimate to fix up the building was between $500,000 and $750,000.
Healdsburg Animal Shelter secretary-treasurer Bob Wilkie said the money from the lawsuit settlement will be less than that, but will cover a good chunk of it.
"We will be giving them a check. I can't tell you how much. It's in the six figures. That's certainly enough to do a lot of work," Wilkie said.
"Our goal is to be able to open the doors without launching a capital campaign," Icard said.
She said some redesign is needed in the dog kennel area, to dampen noise. Placement of drains is another issue that needs to be dealt with.
"Some remodeling and configuration is needed to create a space that is quiet and serene for our cats," she added.
Currently, the Humane Society is operating out of two trailers at the site next to the empty shelter, under a contract with the city of Healdsburg.
Healdsburg residents can surrender or adopt animals, be reunited with lost pets and pay for licensing inside the trailer offices. But the dogs aren't kept overnight and are sent back and forth to the Humane Society's headquarters east of Sebastopol.
The Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, which handles stray, vicious and injured Healdsburg animals, also operates in a trailer next to the unfinished shelter.
City officials say the current arrangement with the Humane Society and Petaluma Animal Services is working well.
"We've received nothing but the highest feedback from the community and staff in terms of the responsiveness and visibility of animal control," said Police Chief Kevin Burke, whose department oversees the $235,000 annual contract with the animal welfare agencies.
The $3.5 million shelter was built largely with a gift from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife, Charlotte. The couple owned and loved dogs, and wanted to see a modern facility replace a cramped shelter across the road that was built in 1960 and has since been demolished.
But construction of the new shelter came to a halt short of completion in late 2011 when the general contractor went bankrupt.