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Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa plans fundraising campaign to assist move

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Santa Rosa’s Bird Rescue Center opened its doors to hundreds of community members for its annual festival and fundraiser Saturday afternoon, as it has for five straight years now, but the context of this year’s event was dramatically different.

As guests enjoyed getting up close and personal with some of the center’s 18 resident birds or making crafts with their children, among other activities, chairman Jeremy Nichols used the opportunity to raise awareness about the facility’s likely relocation.

The center has for decades paid no rent to operate on county-owned property not far from Chanate Road, part of a sprawling campus in northeast Santa Rosa that also includes the old county hospital complex. Nearly three years after Sutter Health left the site to move into its current facility on Mark West Springs Road, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in July agreed to sell 82 acres in the area, including the land on which the bird center sits, to developer Bill Gallaher, who plans to build hundreds of apartments and other amenities on the site, much of which will remain open space.

That means the rescue center, which cares for up to 3,000 injured birds annually, will probably need to move, although it’s not clear exactly when.

It will likely be an expensive endeavor: Nichols estimates the center will need to raise between $500,000 and $1 million in a campaign he plans to launch formally sometime in the next few weeks.

“It’s a tremendous job that we’ve never had to do before,” Nichols said. Replacing the aviaries alone will likely cost about $100,000, he said.

Most of the money raised on Saturday will go toward the center’s normal operations, Nichols said. But the event Saturday, dubbed the “Festival of Feathers,” nonetheless afforded Nichols time to spread word of the move to about 50 people on hand.

“You just never know when you might meet a connection,” he said.

Monty Delozier, of Sebastopol, first came to the center a few years ago with a child he was mentoring through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. A conversation with Nichols on Saturday about birds eventually segued into talk of the relocation.

“Clearly, you’re working on a shoestring budget, so that’s a concern for me,” Delozier said.

The rescue center already has some reason to be optimistic. County staff members have discussed the possibility of using the county’s old Los Guilicos juvenile hall facility off Highway 12, and Gallaher’s project manager has said the development team will help in some form, although nothing has been put in writing yet, according to Nichols.

The center also is considering a privately owned site in Windsor.

“I recognize that, ultimately, it is our responsibility,” Nichols said of the move. “If the developer wants to help us, that would be wonderful. If not, we’ll do it ourselves.”

Diana Scanlan of Cotati came to the event Saturday with her two daughters and three grandchildren who love seeing the birds shown at the center, which she praised as a “fantastic place.” Scanlan was aware the county had sold the Chanate Road hospital complex, but she did not realize the bird center was part of the transaction.

“It’s a wonderful thing to have in the county and obviously very needed,” she said. “So I would hope that they find a good place for it.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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