By Neil Farrell
The County is moving ahead with building a new animal shelter, with County Supervisors recently approving a “pre-qualification program for design-build entities,” a precursor to finding companies qualified to design and build a new facility on Oklahoma Avenue.
The so-called “Request for Submittal of Qualifications” or RSOQ is out now seeking firms interested and qualified in designing and then building the new facility, which would replace the current animal shelter that dates back to about 1975 and is built “on a former landfill utilized in the 1940s by the U.S. Army and Camp San Luis Obispo,” reads a staff report by Rob Ruiz, the County special projects manager. “Current industry standards and public expectations for animal services facilities have changed and the existing services facility’s original design features are now outdated or inconsistent with the current understanding of humane animal services.”
Simply put, the building is falling apart and in dire need of being replaced, as it’s mainly designed to handle stray dogs and not so much cats or the occasional large animals like horses that can end up in the shelter.
The new facility is being proposed for property directly behind the County Honor Farm and Woods Humane Society on vacant rangeland off Oklahoma Avenue.
In April 2015, Supervisors decided not to pour any more money into the facility and to build anew one. All the cities in the county, who are under contract for animal regulation services, were asked to join in the project and pay a pro-rata share of the estimated $13.9 million-plus financing costs.
“The County-only portion of the current estimated construction costs is approximately $1.5 million, including demolition of the existing building,” reads Ruiz’ report. “The approximate shared construction costs allocated to the County and Cities is estimated at $12,176,500.”
Initially every city joined in but then in 2017, Paso Robles and Atascadero pulled out of the arrangement intending to explore the costs to build their own animal shelter to serve the North County. But that apparently didn’t pan out and Ruiz said the two cities officially rejoined the project in July.
Each city — Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, SLO, Atascadero, Paso Robles and Morro Bay — will pay a pro rata share of the construction costs, based on “proportionate use of field services and shelter services,” according to a staff report. That means Paso Robles and SLO will pay the most, with the County covering the portions for all the unincorporated towns — Cayucos, Oceano, Cambria, Nipomo, Santa Margarita, San Miguel and Templeton — as well as that additional $1 million ($1.5M total). That additional million was proposed to lower the overall costs to the cities and lure Atascadero and Paso Robles back into the project.
For its part, the City of Morro Bay expects to pay between $17,000-$40,000 a year for the next 25 years with the initial year (FY 2018-19) running between $24,417 and $31,305 according to an item approved in August by the Morro Bay City Council.
The County estimates financing the project will cost a bundle too. “Preliminary estimates of financing costs range from approximately $6.7 million to $10.8 million, and annual debt payments are estimated to range from $756,000 to $970,000. Staff intends to finance the project with a combination of bond financing and County funds.”
Ruiz said the deadline for companies to submit their qualifications is Oct. 5 and the County will narrow down the proposals to a Top-3 who will then be asked to submit plans and bids.
Such methods — having companies commit significant amounts of time and money developing preliminary designs — can be risky.
For example, Morro Bay used this method for its new sewer plant project and got just two companies to submit bids, after about a half dozen initially showed interest, and that was on a more than $60 million project.
So the Supervisors agreed to pay the two non-winning bidders stipends of $5,000 each to help defray their costs.
Ruiz said this is the first time the County is using this method of delivery on a major project. Normally the process would be to bid for design work, and then go out for bids for the construction portion. Both the new Women’s Jail and the Juvenile Services Center addition and remodeling were done that way.
Each time a project goes out for bids can add 4-6 months to a project, and thus increase costs, the design-build method of delivery could be expected to cut costs and speed up delivery of a new shelter but could mean getting fewer and thus less-competitive bids.
In any event, it isn’t likely to be until sometime in spring 2019 that a construction contract will be awarded and construction could get underway.