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Construction problems with the unfinished Healdsburg Animal Shelter building may be so bad that the building would have to be torn down.

The head of the board of directors said Thursday the cracked foundation of the empty $3.5 million facility may be impossible to repair, although he also cautioned that is "a worst case scenario."

If so, "the building would have to come down," William Anderson told a community forum of about two dozen people inside the building.

Anderson tapped his heel on the floor to demonstrate the hollow sound in some places.

"You can feel a gap between the prepared surface and the slab," he said, adding that consultants say it may have been a result of poor compaction work.

Anderson said the best outcome would be repairing the concrete floor and sealing the cracks with epoxy. A second scenario would mean reinforcing the foundation with steel under the building.

But if those repairs prove impossible, he said, the building may have to be demolished.

"It is a possibility? Sure. Is it a probability? No, I hope not," he said after his public comments.

The stalled, unfinished shelter opposite the organization's cramped existing facility on Westside Road is the most tangible example of the problems the 52-year- old, nonprofit agency has experienced.

The shelter's volunteer board of directors has been subject to chronic turnover, a series of salaried executive directors have departed, fundraising shortfalls and controversy over animal adoptions.

The board of directors held its first public forum a month ago at the unfinished building, and it was marked by testy exchanges between shelter officials, their critics and defenders of the shelter.

Thursday's meeting was much calmer.

"There was nobody with pitchforks today," shelter volunteer Jack Anderson noted at the close of the meeting.

The City of Healdsburg has a $115,000 annual contract with the shelter to provide animal control services. City Council members last month in a public meeting summoned shelter directors to respond to questions about the organization and its ability to complete the new building.

The new shelter was funded almost entirely with a bequest from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife Charlotte.

It was supposed to be finished last year, but fell short of money and had a general contractor who went bankrupt.

The organization has filed lawsuit to recover funds to finish the building and resolve the cracked foundation issue, according to Anderson, who said insurance companies may cover the costs.

"Clearly, there's a recourse through insurance," he said. "We won't go back and ask the community for more money."

While the building is rife with construction and design problems, shelter directors say the organization is solid.

"So much has been said about this shelter," Anderson said, adding that it has a high quality dedicated staff that does an extraordinary job.

"This organization is extremely sound. That shelter across the street runs extremely well," he said to applause from the audience.

Ryan Pelleriti, the animal control field supervisor who just returned from a month-long leave of absence, said he is pleased with the new leaders on the board of directors.

"I think we're moving forward. It feels good," he said.

Even though the existing shelter is cramped and the roof leaks, he said, the animals are "unbelievably well treated," despite what some critics have said.

"The staff goes above and beyond for every animal in there," Pelleriti said.

Anderson on Thursday also announced the names of a number of people who have been named to an advisory board to the shelter's board of directors.

They include dog behavior specialists, financial and fundraising experts and veterinarians, including Richard Bachman, who was named 1999 "Shelter Vet of the Year" by the American Humane Society.

Construction experts also will be added.

"These people bring tremendous depth of experience," Anderson said.

Shelter directors are reconstructing a timeline of key decisions for the unfinished building, as well as conducting a financial audit.

"The last big hurdle is for everyone in the community to understand what went wrong with the new building and get past it," Anderson said.