The City’s current 1980s-vintage animal shelter, where volunteers work under cramped conditions, would be replaced by a building with considerably more space to house animals for adoption and features such as a food pantry and event space under pre-design models shared at a community meeting last week.

Members of the Evanston Animal Shelter Association (EASA), the largely volunteer group which staffs the shelter at 2310 Oakton St., just west of the former recycling center, as well as officials from the City and architectural firm Holabird & Root, shared their vision for a new building at the pre-design virtual public meeting held Sept. 9.

The groups are set to appear before the Evanston City Council at its regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 27 to seek funding for the project. 

Members of the previous City Council gave the groups approval to proceed with  preliminary design work with Holabird & Root after the City received a $2 million grant from Cook County to build a bigger animal shelter at the current site.

Cat holding room
A cat holding room at the current shelter. (Photo courtesy of Evanston Animal Shelter Association)

Under the agreement with the County, the expanded animal shelter would also include space for animals from unincorporated areas, which the County currently lacks space to house.

At the Sept. 9 virtual meeting, officials pointed to some of the deficiencies in the current 3,000-square-foot shelter in support of a modern shelter able to accommodate changing needs. 

The one-story shelter, constructed in 1987 as a dog pound, holds room for 25 dogs and 26 cats, said Vicky Pasenko, EASA’s Executive Director and a shelter volunteer for 16 years.

The shelter was initially the place where dogs were taken when they were caught. “Either the owner came and got them fairly quickly or, if they were still there [after a period of time], then they were euthanized,” she said. “So nobody cared what conditions they lived in. Nobody thought about taking them for walks [or] worried about their quality of life. It’s just they were there and they were gone.”

“There were no spaces for cats,” she said. “The cats have been stuck in what probably were previously closets. “There’s lack of spatial or visual separation across species,” she said, “with cats housed across the hall from the dog kennel. “Cats can see dogs going in and out; they can hear the dogs barking,” she said. “And if you have cats, you know that that’s not an ideal situation.”

Because of the lack of space, she said, there was no ability to separate healthy animals from unhealthy ones. 

“We do the best we can to keep some separation,” she said, “but we’ve really kind of been very lucky, I guess, in many regards, that we haven’t had major outbreaks of anything awful.”

Preliminary designs of new building 

Groups participating in the pre-design envisioned three models for a new building, ranging in size from 7,500 to 12,700 square feet.

Both of the first two models would hold space for 48 dogs and 42 cats. The third, under the label of “Human Experience plus Future Growth,” would step up to 67 dogs and 62 cats and also include a separate intake entry point.

All three models would include features not available at the current facility, such as separate animal areas, compatibility with life safety codes, accessibility, a food pantry and event space.

Storage corridor
A corridor of the current Evanston animal shelter is being used for storage. (Photo courtesy of Evanston Animal Shelter Association)

“Basically, everything that we explained to be a program deficiency is accounted for in the visions of the new facility,” said Laura Gabel, project manager at Holabird & Root, “so things like separate medical exam areas and an actual adoption space intended for that purpose.”

Pasenko spoke about the benefits one of the features, a food pantry, would bring.

Instead of “having food stored in a shed out back and have people come for food pantry items, and we have to kind of dig it out for them,” she said, “I’d love to see a food pantry with an exit into the building so that when people come for food pantry items … they can select the items that they want and be on their way.”

She said a community event space might serve as a place “where we can have public education; we could have dog-training classes there for people who adopt from us, or [for] just people in the community if needed. We could have volunteer meetings there. We could use that space as dog-exercise area in the winter when it’s really, really cold outside. So some of these spaces are really vital to the mission of the shelter, and they’re just not here today.”

Energy features could increase costs

Officials provided estimated costs for the models, ranging from $5.5 million for the 7,500 square-foot facility to $8.5 million for the 12,500 square-foot version. Those estimates would increase slightly in the different models if features in line with the Climate Action and Resilience Plan, such as solar and geothermal installation, were added in.

Current agreements call for the County grant of $2 million to be added to an anticipated contribution of $1.5 million to $3 million from the City and $500,000 to $1 million from the Evanston Animal Shelter Association, adding up to funding in the range of $4 million to $6 million, the presenters said at the Sept. 9 meeting. 

Mary Rosinski, a Seventh Ward resident, was among several in attendance who asked about the level of commitment for the project. “The only thing I’ve heard at the City Council was $100,000, which was for a design or architect, but I haven’t heard any other approval agreements or anything,” she said.

“I guess I’m just puzzled,” said Rosinski, a longtime speaker on City issues, “because, in my world, people have a budget, and everything’s agreed upon before they start their project.”

Since the former Council gave approval to proceed with a preliminary design contract with Holabird & Root in March of this year, the various groups have been working together to define the parameters of any program at the new shelter, representatives of the various groups said in their presentation.

Either way, officials face a decision on the current shelter, suggested Lara Biggs, the City Engineer, during the presentation.

During the City Council’s budget discussion in 2017, Biggs told Council members that the current shelter is “at the end of its useful life” as a functioning building.

The building’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation system is failing and cannot be replaced; it is not meeting new building codes, she said. “So, the idea that we would just carry on is not really going to work,” she said.

Volunteers speak of need for new building 

At the meeting, a number of volunteers who work regularly at the shelter spoke in support of moving forward on a new facility. 

“As somebody who’s been working there day-in and day-out,” said Brittany, one of a number of volunteers to speak, the “building is certainly on its last legs. It’s not a good situation where you have a ton of dogs in there, and all of a sudden it’s 95 degrees, and you have no air conditioning, and you’re having to send out an email blast trying to get every dog you possibly can out of the shelter, because it’s not safe.

“Most of us are taxpayers here in Evanston and we don’t want to waste the money,” she said. But by taking the $2 million grant from the County and building on it, the City will “get a huge bang for its buck,” she said. “It will be able to put in far less money than it otherwise would in order to get a shelter that really serves the needs of the community.”

“I am a long-term volunteer for the shelter,” said Barbara, another speaker, “and I was there before the transition to EASA [a no-kill shelter] and was thrilled to support the transition.

“I can tell you firsthand that this is absolutely critical that this gets done. The shelter is so small in there, our staff [adoption] shows are being laid out in one small room … volunteers tripping over each other.

“I mean, the space issue is just unbelievable. Volunteers are taking things home to wash, bringing them back, taking another load to wash.

“I have to tell you, the City has to support this or this shelter, in my opinion, is not going to be able to continue; and that would be a dramatic disservice to this community,” she said.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

2 replies on “Models present vision for new Evanston animal shelter”

  1. The Evanston Animal Shelter is one of my favourite do-good projects in Evanston. Staffed by unpaid volunteers, it is well-run and as clean as possible.
    Vicky is a wonderful, caring conscientious Director (unpaid!). If she says they need more resources—then they do.
    Please help them with real funds, and not “pie in the sky” plans.
    As a citizen of Evanskie, I thank you, and pledge to contribute $100.

    1. Thank you for highlighting their work. I do not understand why the shelter is at risk when we are considering a dog park. We have a dog park..okay, it is Skokie but we can use. The shelter should be prioritized.

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