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Giving them shelter

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County celebrates animal shelter grand opening

By Roger Snodgrass

The project turned out to be a bit more complicated than it seemed at first, but the Animal Shelter opened with a flourish Monday.

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A few years and a couple of false starts later, the halfway house for abandoned pets on the eastern entrance into town has virtually sprung out of the ground in the last few months.  The groundbreaking took place in May and by August, the end was in sight.

A small crowd of county officials and staff joined project participants and residents to celebrate a grand opening, including a few brief remarks and a ribbon cutting, followed by refreshments and a tour of the new 4,000 square-foot home for homeless dogs and cats.

Los Alamos County Council Chair Michael Wheeler was pleased to say that the project was finished on schedule and under budget. He thanked all the participants for making that happen and then cut the ribbon.

The current shelter, a relative shanty compared to the new digs, is scheduled to be demolished by spring to make way for the Trinity Site project.

After the ceremony, Wheeler recalled a few bumps in the road when the project started in 2006, starting with siting problems.

Initial plans to build a new shelter at the east end of the Airport Basin Site ran aground because of access problems and a second option on the west side of the development had to be discarded because a suitable location could not be identified.

The estimated costs escalated to $2.5 million.

“Council looked at that and said the budget was only $1.5 million and we weren’t going to build it for more,” Wheeler said.

In fact, the final figures, according to Project Director Don Russo, came in just under that. Russo expressed appreciation to “a really good architect, a really good contractor and excellent county support.”

Mullen Heller Architecture PC of Albuquerque designed the building with input from the council, the Friends of the Shelter and the public. Klinger Constructors, LLC, built the building.

Part of the solution for reducing the budget was picking the current site.  

Wheeler credited Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy for solving several problems at once with the current location, strategically located next to the Ridgeview Veterinary Hospital and the Dog Obedience School and near the Dog Park and Aspen Ridge Lodge, where there were a number of seniors to volunteer for dog-walking duties.

Organizationally, the shelter falls under the police department’s animal control activities.

Introducing the 16 new individual holding pens and outside runs for the dogs, public service aide Robert Aragon said, “It’s a nice change from what we currently have. The room, the size is a big advantage, because we can take care of more cats and dogs and there is more room for the public.”

There is a viewing area where prospective animal adopters can view the cat community and even enter the room for a closer look.

Architect Doug Heller said an important change for the project was when the council decided that downtown standards should be applied to the building.  That led, among other things, to the portal and long wall that combine to create a street front to the building and the stacked stone materials that are indigenous to the area.

Wheeler said he and Councilor Bowman had “insisted on the downtown standards,” even though the building was technically outside the downtown perimeter.

Despite the additional $200,000 cost, he said, “There’s no reason the county shouldn’t comply with the standards expected from everybody else.”