Commission delays cattery decision to September, effectively rejecting bids

City Commissioners voted 3-2 to postpone a decision to September on a $462,000 contract for the cattery addition at the Great Falls Animal Shelter.

That decision effectively rejects the bid that staff recommended since it needs to be awarded within 60 days from the bid opening. That means if the cattery project is to continue, the city will have to rebid the project again.

The decision also delays the installation of the hydro-incinerator, which was approved in the city’s 2017 budget.

Cattery addition at city shelter up for commission vote this week

Funding for the project was coming entirely through donations, with the exception of the purchase of the hyrdo-incinerator.

Commissioner Owen Robinson made the motion to delay the decision because he wants the city to further pursue the possibility of some form of partnership with the Maclean Cameron Animal Adoption Center.

Robinson formerly served as president of the center’s foundation. In January 2017, Maclean’s board announced that Robinson and his wife had made a $250,000 donation to animal center’s foundation.

City again seeking bids for cattery addition at the Great Falls Animal Shelter

During the meeting, Robinson said they could postpone the decision to May 7 to keep bids alive, but that wouldn’t give the small group that’s been meeting outside the public’s eye the time to develop their plan for a possible partnership.

City rejects bid for animal shelter upgrades

The group would likely know by July, Robinson said, if the group, which has dubbed itself Animals First, would get to a point that there’s no way a partnership would work.

If that happens, he said they could proceed with the cattery. But, since the decision has been postponed till September, and the city has to rebid, that puts the bidding into the fall and winter so construction would likely be delayed another year.

Last year, the city put the shelter projects out for bid, but the prices came in higher than the budget allowed at the time. So the city rejected the bids, adjusted their contract with Nelson Architects for an additional cost, and broke the project into phases to rebid this spring.

Bids open for expansion project at the Great Falls Animal Shelter

Commissioner Bill Bronson said, “I do not see those conversations ever resulting in any situation where everything is going to be combined.”

For years, Bronson said, there have been differing views on animal care and there are those who staunchly support the city shelter and those who have invested in the Maclean center.

More than a decade ago, a consultant issued a report about the city shelter and recommended that no further resources be put into the aging facility. But, since that time, staff changes and continued city efforts have improved the city shelter, he said.

It may not be the most efficient, Bronson said, but continuing to operating the two separate facilities may be the only way animal lovers in the community can coexist.

He said that instead of creating the atmosphere of cooperation that Robinson is hoping for, Bronson said his fear is that is will again create an atmosphere of confrontation.

Depending on the decision, the city may have to return donations that were given specifically for the cattery.

His fear was that by delaying the decision, the message to the community would be that the commission has changed its mind about the course it has taken since 2012 for the shelter.

In 2012, the shelter staff began working with Nelson Architects to develop a master plan.

The plan focused on additions to the existing building, including a cattery addition, canine area expansion, interior office and reception area remodeling, exterior façade renovation, site work, and landscaping, and provided cost estimates. The plan was developed due to the increasing Animal Shelter usage and how to best reduce animal stay time in the facility by increasing animal capacity space, according to the staff report.

In May 2013, the City Commission approved a professional services agreement with Nelson Architects for architectural/engineering services and in October 2013 approved the master plan facility and funding recommendations provided by staff.

At the April 2017 commission retreat, the shelter staff was given approval to pursue dollar-for-dollar grant matches from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. According to staff, the ASPCA has confirmed the city project’s worthiness for funding.

In February, Robinson shared his desire to again pursue possible partnership between the city and the foundation.

At the time, he said two city commissioners would meet with two people from the foundation board. Since that isn’t a commission quorum, it wouldn’t be subject to public notice or open meeting laws, he said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Robinson said he and Commissioner Mary Moe have been meeting weekly with the foundation representatives and “we’ve made a lot of progress.”

He gave limited details as to what that progress was and as of Tuesday night, city staff was in the dark about the details of those discussions. Any partnership will require significant staff work to address staffing, legal issues, donors and facility issues like the incinerator since the city shelter is the only facility in the region that offers cremation.

“I think if the cattery were built, it would probably ruin any chance,” that the organizations could partner, Robinson said Tuesday.

Bronson asked Robinson why that would be the case.

Robinson said one of the ideas being floated was that whatever agency assumed management of animal care in the community, they would operate out of the Maclean facility and close the city shelter.

Mayor Bob Kelly said that the commission has asked staff to pursue this over the years and they have raised the necessary funds. He said they also tried this discussion unsuccessfully with the foundation several years ago, but they owe it to taxpayers to find efficiencies.

Bronson and Commissioner Tracy Houck voted against the motion to postpone the contract award.