The unfinished animal shelter in Healdsburg, which has sat empty for four years in a stark reminder of the builder’s bankruptcy and dashed dreams for a modern, airy facility, is again buzzing with construction activity.
Workers are busy drywalling, rewiring electrical circuits, installing heating and cooling units and remodeling rooms to make them more pet-friendly. The surge in work is meant to meet an anticipated March 1 completion date that will finally provide a new haven for Healdsburg’s stray and homeless animals.
“A state-of-the-heart shelter” is how Kiska Icard, executive director of the Sonoma Humane Society, describes the eventual finished project, which aims to make the facility as stress-free and welcoming to animals as possible.
“This is a progressive building. A lot of thought is going into how to make it into an environment where animals really thrive,” Icard said last week on a tour of the building.
The news that work has resumed on the once-mothballed site and is on track for a springtime opening was welcomed by City Council members.
“I’m so thrilled this is getting done,” Councilman Tom Chambers said. “It was such a disappointment at one point. It caused a lot of angst among a number of citizens, for good reason.”
The Humane Society inherited the building more than a year ago from the defunct Healdsburg Animal Shelter, which dissolved in the wake of its failure to complete the 7,500-square-foot building off Westside Road.
The Healdsburg Animal Shelter had aimed to replace its cramped, antiquated facility across the street at the city’s corporation yard with a roomy up-to-date shelter, funded largely by a $2.9 million donation from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife, Charlotte.
But in 2011, as the building neared completion, the general contractor went bankrupt and work stopped. Subcontractors filed liens against the general contractor and the Healdsburg Animal Shelter.
Further exacerbating the woes, prominent large cracks appeared in the floor of the unfinished building, raising questions about its structural integrity.
Money to finish the project dried up along with community support and donations.
But there were problems beyond construction woes. Doubts were raised about the Healdsburg Animal Shelter’s avowed no-kill policy after a couple of incidents involving dogs brought to the smaller existing shelter.
The shelter went through four executive directors in a relatively short span and also was beset by high turnover and infighting on the board of directors.
That all appears to be in the past now, with legal and construction issues resolved.
But Icard said in the aftermath there was a “strong sense of hurt by the community and a real distrust” that the shelter would become reality.
Currently, the Humane Society operates out of two trailers at the site next to the unfinished shelter. Under a contract with the city of Healdsburg, residents can surrender or adopt animals, be reunited with lost pets and pay for licensing.
Dogs aren’t kept there overnight but are sent back to the Humane Society’s headquarters off Highway 12, 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.