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Almost home: Humane Society breaks ground for new shelter

WILLMAR -- The weather was damp and the construction site muddy, but enthusiasm was high Monday morning as the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County officially broke ground for a new animal shelter serving Kandiyohi and Meeker counties. The facility will replace the Humane Society's aging, crowded shelter with a new $515,000 building that will allow the organization to care for more homeless animals, increase its adoption rate and offer more education and volunteer opportunities for the community.

"This is a dream that some of the folks here will tell you they thought they would never see," said Steve Gardner, a Humane Society board member.

"A lot of hard work went into it," said Linda Kacher, the organization's co-president.

About 40 people, including city and county officials, were on hand Monday as the first ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt were dug.

The new shelter, located on 28th Street Southwest, just off U.S. Highway 12, is scheduled to be completed in November.

Local officials said they're looking forward to what the enhanced facility will do for animal services in Kandiyohi and Meeker counties.

"We look at this as an opportunity for the future," said Richard Larson of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

"I know that we're all excited," said Michael Schmit, Willmar city administrator.

The project has been "in the making for a long time and it's involved a lot of people," he said.

The brief speeches were punctuated with barking from some of the six dogs at the ceremony.

Becky Hompe, co-president of the Humane Society, said the new facility is designed to provide a healthier and less stressful environment for homeless animals while they wait to be claimed or adopted. It will include a state-of-the-art ventilation system to reduce the risk of disease.

Energy-efficiency measures will help make it cost-effective to operate, she said.

The public also will find the new shelter more user-friendly, with space to get acquainted with a potential new animal companion and room for volunteer and education programs.

The Humane Society board and staff have been closely involved in the building's design, Hompe said. "We've gotten a lot of the things we needed."

Staff and volunteers are eager about the project, especially with the start of excavation last week, she said. "We've already been doing our share of drive-bys."

The dreams and plans for building a new home for the Humane Society go back almost a decade.

Details finally began falling into place this past year when both Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar reached an agreement to help pay for the project.

The county is chipping in $250,000 from its reserve fund for construction of the shelter. The city donated the two-acre site and will contribute $10,000 each year for the next five years.

This spring, the project gained another partner when neighboring Meeker County began negotiating with local officials to join the project. Final details on the agreement, including a financial allocation, are still being worked out.

The Humane Society itself is privately raising $500,000 for the project. Pledges have already been committed for about $100,000, Gardner said.

"Despite the economy, we're doing OK," he said.

Money raised by the Humane Society will go not only toward construction but also the cost of equipping the new shelter with basics such as dog kennels, office furniture and computers, Gardner said.

"One of the things we really need is an opportunity to outfit the new building properly," he said.

The organization also wants to build a financial cushion for future operation and maintenance of the shelter, he said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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