In the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal, contestants were asked to choose between three doors; at a Tuesday, Nov. 28 work session, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners were asked to choose between three options for a future animal shelter. 

At the end of that work session, the commissioners left all three doors closed for this year, as they seek more information and put more thought into it.  Commissioners said a final decision would likely come at their Thursday, Jan. 18 meeting.

Behind Door Number One is a large, shiny new $15 million 42,000-square-foot animal shelter option, one that would be everything anyone wanted and more.  However, that price tag is about $6 million over the amount the board has been planning to pay for a new shelter.

Behind Door Number Two is a $13 million animal shelter that’s a somewhat scaled down version of the first option.  Choosing that door would save Guilford County about $2 million dollars over the first option, but it would also hold fewer animals.  Option two would have a capacity of 294 animals, which would allow for a 10-day average length of stay.  The more expensive shelter, option one, would hold 441 animals, allowing for a 14-day length of stay.  That’s about what it is now at the current shelter, he said.

On the other side of Door Number Three – the least likely door to be chosen – is a $9 million project that would renovate buildings at the existing Guilford County Animal Shelter site at 4525 W. Wendover Ave. and add new structures there.

The host of the show at the Nov. 28 afternoon work session was Shelter Planners of America President Mike Barnard, a consultant hired by the county to help plan the new shelter.  Barnard, aided by his PowerPoint presentation, did most of the talking at the work session in the Blue Room of the Old Guilford County Court House.

Guilford County is about to close on property at 979 Guilford College Road, which is just southwest of Greensboro and is less than two miles from the existing county shelter.  The county bought an option to purchase the land this summer after it was selected to be the site of the new shelter.

Given that land purchase and the announcement that the shelter would be built on that property, there were a lot of surprised looks on the commissioners’ faces at the work session when the consultant brought up the possibility of adding onto the old shelter.  But since the budget for the new shelter project has been estimated at about $9 million, Barnard said, he wanted to include one option with a cost that came in near that amount.

For the most part, the county commissioners said they didn’t like the idea of adding to the current shelter on West Wendover for a number of reasons: It would be difficult to build and renovate there while the current shelter continues operating; there’s not much additional land on that site in case the county wants to expand in the decades to come; the traffic on the roads around the current shelter is very heavy – and, if the county moves the shelter from the West Wendover site, it can sell that land and make somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.  The county is paying about $550,000 for the new property on Guilford College Road and it has many of the characteristics the commissioners are looking for.

At the meeting, Barnard said he realized that the commissioners weren’t inclined to build on the current site or add to it.

“Initially, when we came on board, that was already off the table,” he said.

But he said it would be more expensive to build on the new site.

“Basically, the price tag on both of those [options] is pretty high, and so we felt like we needed to bring something that really, we think, is a legitimate option for you.”

Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, who in the past has argued for keeping the shelter where it is, seemed to perk up at the possibility.  However, it appears the majority of the commissioners have already moved on from that idea and are prepared to build on the new site, as many commissioners announced in late summer that they intended to do.  One indication that the board plans to build at the new site is that, at the work session, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips instructed Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing to go ahead and close on the new property.

Barnard said that, regardless of the option the county chooses, it should undertake several new strategies to help reduce the county’s animal population and get the adoption numbers up at the shelter.

Part of that he said will fall on the county’s Animal Services director.   Guilford County just hired a brand new one – Jorge Ortega, the former senior director of operations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Adoption Center in New York.  Barnard said many in the animal welfare community believe Ortega was “an excellent choice” who will help implement and carry out some of the new policies Guilford County needs to engage in.

“A trap, neuter and release program, aggressive marketing, community education – you need the whole community in on this,” Barnard said.

At the work session, Barnard addressed the high cost of the shelter project.

“Why are animal shelters so expensive?” he asked before answering his own question.  “The foundations on animal shelters are super complicated – there’s all these slopes and drains and it’s probably more complicated than a contractor has ever poured.”

He said the floor also needed a special finish and that other costs also add up quickly.

“The animal equipment is expensive,” he said.  “That can add $20 to $30 a square foot.  There is actually more walls per square foot in an animal shelter than in any other building type.”

He said that, leveling the land, bringing in utilities and other costs add up to about $15 million.

Barnard said his group asked county staff over 200 questions for information that went into the estimates – everything from questions about capacity to “who will clean up the poop.”

He said option number two is basically the same structure as option one with less animal housing.  The proposed design for either option one or two would be similar.  Both would require roughly the same amount of earth moving and parking lot construction.

“The way we’ve designed it is with nice public parking in front, a nice grand entrance where everybody knows where to go in,” Barnard said.  “With the existing shelter, people go in the main entrance to look for their lost animal and people say, ‘I’m sorry; you’re in the wrong place – it’s over there.’”

Commissioner Justin Conrad, who’s chairman of the Guilford County Animal Services Advisory Board, said there’s a lot to like about the county’s existing shelter site on Wendover.  For instance, people are familiar with the location and it is right next to the Humane Society of the Piedmont.

“But I do have some serious operational concerns of doing the building while we are trying to operate a shelter and provide services to the community,” Conrad said.  “And I also don’t want to see us in any way shape or form shortchange our community, who has dealt with a less than adequate shelter for entirely too long.”

Commissioner Alan Branson said he thought that putting money into the current shelter site would be a big waste.

“The structure out there now is from the 1950s and 1960s,” Branson said.

He said the county’s cost for renovating the existing site would come in “over and above what you’re showing us, once we get into the foundation and structure.”

“That place has been a rats’ nest for a number of years,” Branson said.

Branson also said that’s one key reason the state’s animal welfare inspectors have been citing and fining Guilford County so much.

After the meeting, Guilford County Cash and Debt Manager Clay Hicks said the county sold almost $29 million worth of bonds earlier this year to fund several projects, including the shelter.  That money will also be used to fund a new Emergency Services maintenance center and to renovate the old jail in downtown Greensboro for Sheriff’s Department use.

“The estimate used for the animal shelter project in the bond application was $8.87 million,” Hicks wrote in an email.  “However, flexibility exists to use the $28.645 million for County public building purposes.  For example, savings from one project can be shifted to another project.”

At the work session, Lawing said money could be found to comply with the commissioners’ wishes.

“We have options,” Lawing said.  “The final budgets for two of our other projects have not been set.  We know the cost of this project here.”

The commissioners have some extra money in a general fund, in the county’s construction fund and in other funds.

At the work session, Lawing said he would meet with Guilford County Finance Director Reid Baker and Budget Director Mike Halford and explore options.

Halford told the board that it just comes down to “choices” for the board.

Commissioner Skip Alston said at the meeting that Guilford County needs to think way into the future as it plans this project.

“I would like to see us plan for growth and try to go for the gusto right now in order to give our citizens a first-class facility and not penny pinch,” he said.

Alston added that he also wants the commissioners to ask for input from the Animal Shelter Advisory Board.

Commissioner Coleman said the commissioners should seek input from all county residents.

“I don’t want citizens to say they didn’t know about it,” she said.