Farmington residents and officials had their first chance to give input to how the new animal shelter will look, since the city chose an architect, and part of the public input forum was looking at the various options available.
BDA Architecture, PC met with more than 30 city officials and residents at the Civic Center on Thursday to present some of the concepts the architectural firm had come up with based upon the building's price tag and necessary square footage.
To get an idea of the necessary square footage the firm submitted a 14-page questionnaire to city and animal shelter staff to ascertain their needs. That data was then combined with the required $3.5 million price tag to develop a prototype structure.
That structure is by no means a final product. Instead, it was a jumping off point for the public to provide input.And there was plenty of input.
In the numerous examples of how the 14,000-square-foot structure could look, there was one unifying theme a focus on making it seem as least like a jail as possible. Animal runs had glass walls and doors, the waiting areas were vaulted and the walls and ceilings were painted in bright inviting colors.
Everywhere that the public would be was focused on creating an inviting experience that would enhance adoption rates.
Not only did the proposed structure work to be aesthetically pleasing,
"It's set up to make it less stressful for the animal and more inviting for the public," said BDA representative Dave Gasser. "It's not a jailhouse."
Even noise was considered and its prevention was one of the reasons for the glass kennels.
"There are two views about over-excited barking," Gasser said. "One is that they see each other and get crazy."
The other view, which Gasser and his firm, who have made approximately 600 animal care facilities, find works better is to allow the dogs to see what's going on.
"If they can see what the ruckus is about, what's going on, they don't get as riled up," Gasser said. "What we have found is that moving them to a more open facility tends to calm them down."
In the picture that Gasser displayed, the shiny glass walls made the kennels seem more like high end showers than the jail like feeling imparted by chain link fencing. It also caused consternation among the shelter staff and various experts in the audience.
"Is there another animal shelter using it?" asked Marcy Eckhardt, a consultant for animal shelters. "About the glass doors, my understanding is that shelters have those and don't like them. They don't like that they need to be cleaned by squeegee and the isolation created by the big piece of glass between animal and client. They can't see them, can't touch them."
Gasser assured the audience that his firm had built shelters with very similar runs, but also made it very plain that these designs were purely hypothetical and that in the end any choice of what would go inside the shelter would be up to shelter staff and city officials.
Of the various reactions from community members, the two biggest issues raised about the proposed designs were cleaning, and staffing levels.
When it came to cleaning, staff was worried about two primary problems. The first was how difficult it would be to keep the glass looking shiny, and the second involved how the animals would be moved during the cleaning of the runs.
In the proposed designs, the firm had placed guillotine doors between the kennels so that dogs could be moved down the rows as each successive kennel was cleaned.
The guillotine doors in the sides of the kennels was one of the measures that helped to greatly reduce space from the originally proposed 16,000 square foot structure to the one on display on Thursday because it reduced three hallways down to one central hallway that ran between the runs.
Staff members were worried that the side doors would create a traffic jam during cleaning because each dog would have to be moved into the next kennel as kennels were cleaned. Another issue was the potential for the spread of disease.
In each case, Gasser took the comments under advisement to be considered during the final design phase.
Staffing issues were the second major concern. With the larger and newer facility the experts in the animal care industry in the crowd were predicting that the number of animals coming through the shelter would greatly increase.
"I run the La Plata County Humane Society, I'm the director," said Chris Nelson. "We have five times the amount of full time staff working at our shelter. The bare minimum of time to keep animals healthy is 10 minutes per animal per day. I have five times the staff and we can barely keep up."
The La Plata County shelter has a quarter of the animals that could possibly start coming through the doors of the new shelter, Nelson said.
"If you make this change without a dramatic change in staffing levels you could end up in the same position you are in right now,"' Nelson said.
In response, Parks Director Jeff Bowman said the city was committed to providing the staff necessary to keep the shelter running as smoothly as possible. One of the ways that might happen is by creating a more comprehensive volunteer program.
"Is 14,000 square feet adequate if a new shelter begins bringing in more animals?" asked Phil Morrin of the Regional Animal Shelter Steering Committee.
Gasser assured him that the designs had taken that possibility into account and nearly tripled the available space.
Now that the public input phase is completed, BDA will start the schematic design phase of the project, which is scheduled to take until July 9. At that point, the firm will once again present the plans to the City Council and the public. If those plans are adopted, the firm will have construction papers finished and to the city by Sep. 25.