Prince William County’s aging, overcrowded and “decrepit” animal shelter, according to some volunteers, will be replaced by a new and larger facility by 2019.
That was the result of the county board of supervisor’s 6-to-2 vote Tuesday to spend $1 million in “carry-over” funds from fiscal year 2015 to pay for architectural and engineering plans for a new facility to replace the 40-year-old building that has served Prince William’s stray and abandoned animals since 1975.
The county plans to build the new shelter next to the current one off Va. 234 on Bristow Road in Manassas.
The vote came as the board weighed how to spend a total of $29 million in leftover funds from the budget year that ended in June 2015.
The supervisors decided to put about $13 million of the money in capital reserve funds while also pledging a total of $16 million on a list of projects and programs that included plans for the animal shelter as well as $4.5 million for a new courthouse security system, about $2.5 million on public works projects, about $750,000 on expenses related to the 2016 election and $400,000 on a grant to the Flory Small Business Center.
The board also pledged $75,000 to support Wheels-to-Wellness, a program that provides subsidized cab rides to help chronically-ill disabled and elderly patients get to doctor’s appointments and medical treatments.
Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and John Jenkins, D-Neabsco, voted against the spending plan. Candland said the plan called for “overspending” in too many areas, while Jenkins said he believed the board needed more time to analyze specific funding levels.
The board was supposed to make the spending decisions last month, but pushed them back amid debate about the fiscal year 2017 budget, which they finalized May 6.
The delay worried animal shelter advocates who had been lobbying the board for a new shelter for more than a year.
The effort gained steam last fall after the shelter euthanized 73 cats and halted all cat adoptions for several days following an outbreak of a highly contagious feline “calici virus,” which causes respiratory and oral disease.
It’s now believed that the shelter’s lack of an isolation room and its inadequate ventilation system likely made the outbreak worse.
More than a dozen shelter volunteers spoke during citizen’s time Tuesday about deteriorating conditions at the shelter, which is frequently overcrowded and now coping with soggy and leaking ceiling tiles due to an ailing and insufficient ventilation system.
The board voted last October to spend about $30,000 to upgrade the shelter’s heating and air-conditioning unit but had since delayed those plans amid discussion about long-term plans for the facility.
Several speakers noted the shelter is frequently overcrowded, which results in stressful conditions for both the animals and the people who work with them. According to county statistics, the shelter was overcapacity in all but 25 days of 2014. The facility took in more than 4,600 animals in 2015, about 40 percent of which were adopted.
Tuesday’s vote means the new shelter likely won’t open until 2018 or 2019. It’s also not clear how big the new shelter will be or how much it will cost. The board pledged, however, to consult with experts in animal-shelter design as the project moves forward.
Local animal welfare advocates said they were relieved and encouraged by the board’s vote.
Jen Jones, chair of the county’s animal advisory committee and owner of Alpha Pets, a pet-sitting, dog-walking and training service, called it “progress.”
“I think we’re definitely going to be getting something better,” Jones said, noting that the county has never spent taxpayer money to build an animal shelter. The existing facility, although expanded twice over the years, was originally donated by a local human society.
“As I see it, we kind of owe [a new shelter] to the animals of this county,” Jones said.