The price tag to build a desperately needed new animal shelter has soared by more than $20 million and the planned start date for construction delayed by months, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.
But city officials say they remain committed to the project and are looking for funding to cover the ballooning costs.
The City has long needed a new animal shelter. The existing Animal Care and Control Facility at 1200 15th St., which takes in about 10,000 animals annually, is not up to seismic standards that would allow it to withstand a major earthquake and does not meet best practices for animal care.
But setbacks have stalled the project, most recently in 2016, when it was abruptly pulled from a voter-approved bond that was instead used to fund health centers and homeless shelters.
City officials vowed at the time to pay for a new shelter with funding that didn’t require voter approval, mainly through a form of borrowing known as “certificates of preference,” which more than doubles the project’s cost once all the debt is paid back.
The City had initially planned to renovate the existing shelter for $55.4 million. Those plans changed in 2016, when officials decided to build a new shelter within a nearby historic brick warehouse building on the northern edge of the Mission District at 1419 Bryant St., but the costs were expected to stay the same.
The Board of Supervisors approved borrowing in 2016 for the project at the warehouse and was told shelter construction was expected to start this summer.
Since then the estimated project costs have soared to $76.4 million, a $22.4 million cost increase, an amount that does not include the costs associated with debt financing.
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The project budget actually soared to $83 million at one point, but work was scaled back to find $7 million in savings through changes that included reducing the number of elevators from one to two.
The City now needs to come up with $21 million more. “It is a delta of $21 million that we are currently solving for,” Public Works project manager Tim Kempf told The City’s Capital Planning Committee last week.
About $9 million of the cost hike is due to “today’s difficult bidding environment as well as a shortage of labor and materials,” Kempf said. Other cost increases, however, are attributable to the challenges of working on a historic building.
“The City’s plan is to deliver the project even though the cost of the project has gone up,” Bill Barnes, a spokesperson for City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who oversees the Animal Care and Control agency, told the San Francisco Examiner on Friday.
The Capital Planning Committee could recommend funding the increased costs through a yet-to-be identified source as part of the city’s overall capital plan, which gets sent to the Mayor’s Office for review in May. The capital plan is included as part of the mayor’s city budget proposal, which has to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors by June 1 for review and adoption.
“Construction costs are rising and it remains vital that we replace the Animal Care facility for emergency preparedness and disaster response,” Barnes said.
Supervisor Ahsha Safai questioned the costs during the meeting. “This seems like a really expensive building to renovate, but maybe we don’t have other assets that we could utilize,” Safai said.
Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said, “We’ve done a lot of work around site selection. Looking for sites has been very difficult.”
The City was focused on sites near the existing facility to ensure the shelter remains within close proximity of the San Francisco SPCA, which helps with adoption of animals and spays and neuters animals brought in.
Virginia Donohue, executive director of Animal Care and Control, said, “What we are seeking is a safe and healthy environment for the animals we house and our staff.”
“We don’t meet current seismic standards,” Donohue said last week. “Our animal housing does not meet modern standards of animal care.”
She added, “We don’t even meet the health code for the number of bathroom facilities we’re supposed to have.”
The new shelter will be 56,000 square feet and will be able to hold 85 dogs and 140 cats, a little less than the existing facility due to a design incorporating more humane spaces.
Assuming The City secures the funding, Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon said in an email Friday that “construction will start in spring of 2019 and will finish summer 2020.”
The warehouse where the project is taking place at 1419 Bryant St. is currently owned by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
The SFMTA currently uses the site as headquarters for equipment and staff of overhead lines crews, which will relocate to the agency’s 1570 Burke Ave. warehouse, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Friday. The transit agency will eventually inherit the current shelter site and use it for parking enforcement operations, Rose said.
The shelter project will leave about 12,000 square feet unused in the historic warehouse. This led John Rahaim, head of the Planning Department, to suggest The City could defray some costs by leasing that space to the light industrial sector.
“We are seeing huge demand for [production, distribution, and repair] space in the city right now,” Rahaim said. “I have probably half a dozen projects of brand new PDR space, which is the first time in years that that has happened, including multi-story PDR, which is really unusual.
“It might work out well.”