Officials say price too steep to expand animal shelter

March 20, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The Carroll County commissioners, citing the high cost of construction, have shelved a proposal for a feline addition to the Humane Society's animal shelter.

Nicki Ratliffe, director of the Humane Society, said an addition would lead to a reduction in infection from the diseases that spread rapidly among the 3,000 cats the shelter houses annually.

"Cats have 20-some airborne respiratory diseases they can give each other," said Ms. Ratliffe. "We have to be able to isolate them. We can't minimize the spread of disease now."

The county had budgeted $60,000 for a five-room addition to the animal shelter on Littlestown Pike. The society had requested $125,000 to build an addition that Ms. Ratliffe said would significantly reduce the disease problems.

At a meeting Thursday, public works officials reviewed schematic drawings of the proposed addition with the commissioners. Frederick Ward & Associates, a Bel Air engineering company, estimated that the 1,370-square-foot addition would cost about $100 per square foot.

"We pay $85 [per square foot] for schools," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "I am not going to pay $100 for a cat house."

Mr. Dell said, "I can't see why that kind of construction can't happen at $40 a square foot."

Tom Rio, bureau chief of Building Construction, said "severe excavation" and construction of a retaining wall behind the existing building account for the cost.

"I have a severe difference of opinion with the engineer," said Mr. Rio. "If we accept these drawings as schematic, we will have no funds to build now."

He said the building requires "no special equipment" and contains "straightforward rooms for warehousing animals."

Ms. Ratliffe, who did not attend the commissioners' meeting, said Friday that the addition needs air-purification and drainage systems, electricity and quarantine facilities.

Mr. Rio said he didn't point those features out to the commissioners.

"The HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] elements and floor drains need to be coordinated and planned for, but they don't drive the cost up," said Mr. Rio.

The rooms would be sanitized daily with high-pressure sprayers and disinfectants, said Ms. Ratliffe.

"We need watertight walls," she said. "The entire building would be soaking wet several times a day."

The shelter keeps most cats for 72 hours. With the proposed addition, Ms. Ratliffe said, she could keep cats for five working days -- the same period that dogs stay in the kennel.

"We have strays along with people's pets," said Ms. Ratliffe. "If they are friendly and look cared for, we keep them. We would like to give the public more opportunity to reclaim them."

Strict enforcement of restraint laws keeps dog numbers lower than cats. About 1,400 dogs were housed at the shelter last year. Cats far outnumber dogs at the shelter, but it is short of space for them, Ms. Ratliffe said.

Cat cages fill a small room off the main hallway, a former closet and any available shelf space, she said.

"We need isolation areas to control disease," she said. "We can't jumble strays and pets, or Mrs. Smith's cat will catch some disease."

The shelter, built in 1980, was "meant to warehouse, not isolate animals," Ms. Ratliffe said, and the original focus was on dogs.

"Initially, the county said we didn't have to hold cats at all," she said. "Now, cats are becoming more popular pets, and people are demanding equal treatment for them in shelters."

Ms. Ratliffe said she thinks she can get the costs of the new shelter down, "and will work to that effect."

When the capital improvements process begins again in August, Mr. Rio said his office will review the project.

"I agree with the commissioners," said Mr. Rio. "The present estimate is too high, even with all the equipment."

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