Above the din of circular saws and nailguns, the excitement in Nancy Hill’s voice is unmistakable.
“At first it looked like a war zone in here,” the executive director of Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services said last week, pointing to workers installing steel wall frames on the site of the agency’s new regional center on East Trent Avenue.
The renovated, 30,000-square-foot facility that briefly housed a Harley-Davidson dealership before its purchase by Spokane County won’t be ready for prime time today. But Hill and her growing staff have been working feverishly the past few months to ready SCRAPS for its transition to handling animal control within Spokane city limits, a responsibility that will fall on its shoulders when a Spokane City Council-approved contract kicks in today.
While the new center is being readied, the training process at SCRAPS’ current, much smaller, facility has been “organized chaos,” Hill said, as the agency has doubled the size of its staff in preparation for providing regional service.
The 40-year-old building on North Flora Road where SCRAPS has worked since fleeing downtown Spokane in the run-up to Expo ’74 bustled with activity last week as trainees learned the ropes answering phone calls and cleaning kennels. Donated food and pet toys sat on office floors, with many workers relegated to desks in what had been storage closets.
“We have used every square inch of space in this building,” Hill said, adding animal protection agents have set up shop in unused office space in the county courthouse during the transition.
The SCRAPS contract with the city of Spokane ended a long lobbying process for a regional animal protection system that included opposition at the ballot box. In 2011, county voters rejected a tax that would have funded the construction of a new regional animal protection center.
Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke, who pushed repeatedly for the regional center, joined Hill for a tour of the new facility. The 2011 vote wasn’t a failure, he said, because it convinced elected officials in Spokane that they needed to get behind a centralized animal rescue when they saw support among city voters.
The close vote also produced more people interested in striking a deal with the county, Mielke said.
“When we went back, surprisingly, Realtors started calling us, and business owners, and saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t realize you were looking for a building, why don’t you come look at mine?’ ” he said.
The result was the $1.7 million purchase of the vacant former Harley-Davidson dealership that required no additional tax funding. The price point was well below the anticipated cost of other properties, Mielke said, and it provided the added benefit of built-in industrial hardware in the old motorcycle shop.
The agency has retained the stainless steel room where the motorcycles were washed and will use it to clean the crates used to transport roughly 2,000 animals that are annually taken to Western Washington for adoption. A lift previously used to carry motorcycles to second-story storage will now be used to move pallets of food and other supplies off the adoption center’s floor.
Hill said it’s hard to tear herself away from the new building, which still bears the orange trimmings of the Harley brand on its exterior — and that likely will remain when the scheduled ribbon-cutting takes place in May. She’s glad animal counts are low, thanks to a holiday discount on adoption fees, and is looking ahead to a new era for her agency hastened by the city contract and new facility.
“We’re not hiding the animal shelter anymore,” she said. “Those days are gone. Now it’s a community resource.”