Home Critics question Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center move, citing costs, capacity

Critics question Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center move, citing costs, capacity

Crystal Graham
Photo courtesy Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center.

A growing number of opponents are speaking out in reference to the planned move of the Shenandoah Valley Animals Services Center from Lyndhurst to the former Verona Elementary School in 2024.

SVASC has provided local animal control services since September 2011 for Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County. While SVASC generally does not kill animals in its care, four dogs were euthanized last week.

The group of residents wants to make sure the greater community as a whole is informed of the plans before it’s too late to make changes.

Opponents to the proposal plan to attend the Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting tonight at 7 p.m. to speak against the move as well as recent euthanizations, policies and procedures.

Shelter director Jon Hilbert addressed the four euthanizations that took place on Friday in an email response to someone questioning the decision.

He said two of the four dogs euthanized on Friday were due to “bite histories,” another due to biting shelter staff, and a fourth due to owner surrender. The fourth dog euthanized, he said, could not be housed with cats or small farm animals.

“There is simply a not lot of folks looking to adopt or foster animals with these restrictions,” he said in the email.

A request for more information on the new location was sent to all three localities utilizing the shelter: Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County.

Augusta County Administrator Timothy Fitzgerald said the response sent to AFP is on behalf of the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Board. The three localities are providing $2.7 million for the renovations.

“At a public meeting last month, political and administrative officials revealed that while the shelter is moving, the capacity to house dogs and cats will not increase,” said Carolyn Peake, in an email to AFP. “This is inconceivable as the shelter is once again at capacity today.

“The population forecasts show continued growth in the county. We are hearing that $3 million will be spent to retrofit a shuttered Verona elementary school – $3 million and no increase in capacity?”

Peake isn’t wrong.

At the outset, the localities are planning to provide capacity for the same number of animals at the new Verona shelter, according to the SVASC board, in their response.

However, the square footage of the shelter will increase from 5,000 to 39,000 square feet.

The board said there are various reasons to initially hold the same number of animals.

“Current staff levels and funding supports the existing capacity,” the response read. “There is room for future capacity. Infrastructure will be in place to provide additional capacity in the future. Current funds available do not support providing additional capacity.

“It should be noted that the new location will provide space for administrative offices, storage, staff training, volunteers area, break room, etc. These are areas that are non-existing now. They are much needed for the success of the new location and its employees and volunteers.”

Opponents are also frustrated that the design of the shelter isn’t being done by a firm that specializes in the design of animal shelters.

“Another concern is the architect and the shelter design. There are firms that specialize in this. They know the needs of the pets who live in the shelter, the proper medical protocols for disease mitigation, and all the specialty finishes needed to safely accomplish necessary cleaning,” said Peake. “The three jurisdictions simply contracted for design with their usual general architect. This could lead to years and years of problems and additional expense.”

According to the SVASC board, the localities are utilizing Lineage Architects, which is on retainer with Augusta County. The board said that the architect was chosen through an RFP process.

“They (Lineage Architects) are conducting the necessary research including visiting other shelters in the state for lessons learned,” the statement read. “They are including standards in the shelter industry and are aware of all design principles including, for example, types of flooring and HVAC needed for all shelter requirements including the isolation areas.”

The board said the space for the shelter in Lyndhurst has been inadequate for some time. Through local funds and American Rescue Plan Act funds, and with the availability of the former elementary school, the localities felt it would be a good move for the community.

“Verona provides a good location for the three localities,” the board said. “It is easily assessable near the interstate. It will be more assessable for staff and volunteers than in Lyndhurst.

“We are hopeful this new location will bring additional adopters, rescues, staff and volunteers.”

The board noted that the increased space will also allow the shelter to host adoption events and spay/neuter clinics.

Peake said that she expects tonight’s Board of Supervisors meeting to be packed.

“It may be heated as folks are very upset,” she said.

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.