Originally created 01/01/02

Bragdon scrambles to cut costs



There are no frills for the animals at Richmond County Animal Control, and cuts to the proposed new facility probably will be ones that affect people - the employees who work there and the public, said facility Director Bonnie Bragdon.

With the low bid for constructing the new shelter coming in at $1.98 million, $501,264 more than is available to build it, Dr. Bragdon and architect Phil Rhoades are under pressure to slash costs.

That means eliminating entire areas such as a visitation room where people wanting to adopt an animal could get acquainted with it. It means eliminating a euthanasia room where the animals would be killed, and a cooler to store their bodies before they are hauled to the landfill.

Currently, the animals are killed outside and their bodies are thrown onto the back of a truck. On Monday, 33 dogs and a fox were killed at the facility on Mack Lane, and the kennel was still overcrowded. Animal Control workers spend 12 1/2 hours a week killing unwanted or unadoptable animals but need to spend five additional hours because of shelter overcrowding, Dr. Bragdon said.

"We spend at least 3 1/2 hours per day five days a week killing animals," she said. "That's why we're always behind."

Other features almost certainly to be deleted are one of the dog runs, a surgical suite for spaying and neutering, an incinerator for cremating the bodies, a sally port for unloading animals, and counseling and multipurpose break rooms, she said.

"The thing that is upsetting to me is that we're seriously considering eliminating services to people because we don't have any luxuries for animals," she said.

The cages are so overcrowded that kennel attendant Karen Collins recently took a litter of puppies home with her because there was nowhere to put them. Dr. Bragdon said she often puts animals in her office because she has no other room.

"It's so hard to make people understand what we're faced with," Dr. Bragdon said.

During the weekend, one dog was killed by other dogs in an overcrowded pen, she said.

Since the initial shelter budget was proposed four years ago, construction costs have been driven up by changes in state law that have increased the standard of care shelters are required to provide, Dr. Bragdon said.

For example, the biggest unexpected cost was the bid on the heating, air and ventilation system, expected to be $275,000 but coming in at $400,000, she said.

"The Department of Agriculture required us to change the air in animal rooms every 12 to 14 hours," she said. "That's standard for any animal room or facility. We're also required to keep the temperature between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit."

Mr. Rhoades told Augusta Commission on Thursday that cheaper systems would increase operational and maintenance costs "in excess of $3,500 per month for the life of the facility."

Also standard for veterinary hospitals and animal facilities are stainless steel cages and ceramic tiles, likely to be cut in favor of cheaper materials that will not withstand constant washing and sanitizing, Dr. Bragdon said.

The national average cost of construction of an animal shelter is $150 per square foot, according to the International City/County Management Association.

The cost of the proposed Richmond County shelter is $120.77 per square foot for the basic 17,600-square-foot structure and $132.32 per square foot with options such as the surgical suite, incinerator and stainless steel cages.

Commissioners directed City Administrator George Kolb, Dr. Bragdon and Mr. Rhoades to bring back a plan that includes ways to phase-in the construction using prison inmate labor and money from sales-tax projects that have no chance of being started anytime soon.

The facility on Mack Lane off Tobacco Road is a collection of old buildings built by inmate labor, most of them built in the 1970s. There is no climate control mechanism in the animal pens.

All animal shelters must be inspected and licensed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and Augusta is in danger of losing its license to shelter animals, Dr. Bragdon said.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said Monday that the Richmond County facility was "an old issue that needs new solutions."

"I'd like for them to find some way to issue the contract and build the facility, and we will continue to work with them," Mr. Irvin said.

So does at least one animal rescue group in the Augusta area. The executive director of Molly's Militia, Elaine van der Linden, has notified city commissioners that if construction is delayed, her group plans to try to rally thousands of animal lovers to stage massive demonstrations during Masters Week.

"There is one excuse after the other as to why construction cannot begin on the new shelter," she wrote to Mayor Bob Young and the 10 commissioners. "These animals cannot wait any longer for the humane treatment that has been denied them year after year.

"The eyes of the world will be on Augusta, Georgia during the Masters Golf Tournament, and we feel we must bring national attention to the dilapidated, sub-standard, rotting, dirty building that the 'Garden City' calls animal control."

Taxpayers approved spending $575,000 of Phase III special-purpose local option sales tax money on a new facility in 1996, but that wasn't enough money to build it, so construction was postponed. In the 2000 sales-tax referendum, voters approved spending an additional $1 million to construct it.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.