New Shelter Construction Ahead of Schedule

Amy Lavalley
Chicago Tribune – Post Tribune

From the inside, the new Porter County Animal Shelter appears nearly complete. The walls are painted, the flooring is done and late last week, a few workmen cleaned windows and took care of other small tasks.

Scheduled to open June 1 on Indiana 49 between the Porter County Sheriff’s Department and the Expo Center, officials said work at the shelter is running two weeks ahead of schedule.

Toni Bianchi of the Porter County Animal Shelter - Larson-Danielson

Toni Bianchi, director of the Porter County Animal Shelter, stands in the lobby of the new shelter. (Amy Lavalley / Post-Tribune)

“It looks like it’s done but it’s going to be a couple months. It’s a difficult stage to be patient,” said Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South.

Construction on the new shelter started in late August.

After years of discussion and consideration of an assortment of different locations, county officials decided on county-owned land between the sheriff’s department and the Expo Center for a shelter to replace the one at 2056 Heavilin Road, which they have long said is too small and outdated.

At $3.25 million, the new shelter is being paid for with $2.25 million in proceeds from the sale of the county hospital and a $1 million private donation by Jacki Stutzman, Blaney’s aunt.

Artist's Rendering of Porter County Animal Shelter - Larson-Danielson

Artist’s rendering of the new Porter County Animal Shelter. (Larson-Danielson Construction Co / Post-Tribune)

The new shelter, at 16,000 square feet, will have the capacity for 120 dogs and 120 cats.

“The construction of the building is more or less complete,” shelter director Toni Bianchi said before giving a tour of the new building, which includes a surgery center, separate areas for large and small dogs, and cat rooms, where cats will be able to live without being confined to cages.

The move-in date may be sooner than originally scheduled, she said, but that’s out of her hands.

“I’m waiting on vendors, kennels, that kind of thing. There’s not much we can do about that,” she said, adding those items were ordered with a June 1 deadline. She’s asked vendors to speed things along but she’s not sure if they can.

Even without the kennels, the shelter staff can move items out of storage and into the new building and take on other related tasks until they can move the animals, she said.

She plans to close the old shelter for a long weekend to facilitate moving the animals. While the dogs will be getting new kennels, the cats will use the same cages because they are only a few years old.

“We’ll be closed for a few days and at that point, people will just have to understand,” she said.

Animal Control officers and volunteers will help transport the animals, Bianchi said, adding the shelter currently has about 30 cats and 30 dogs, though that fluctuates.

“Our population right now is fairly low. We’ve been doing fairly well with adoptions lately so that’s good,” she said, adding a mild winter will mean an even greater influx of kittens than usual but the shelter will have more room for them.

Marcus Schoof with Larson-Danielson wiping down window at Porter County Animal Shelter

Marcus Schoof, a laborer with Larson-Danielson Construction, wipes down a window Friday at the new Porter County Animal Shelter. (Amy Lavalley / Post-Tribune)

A sophisticated air exchange system will keep disease down, Blaney said, and the improved environment will reduce stress on the animals, both of which will make them more adoptable.

“It’s just going to be phenomenal,” she said.

County officials continue to negotiate with the city of Portage about bringing their animals to the new shelter instead of the Hobart Humane Society, Blaney said. Portage is the only municipality in the county that doesn’t use the shelter.

The fate of the old shelter has already been determined.

“We will be tearing it down as soon as possible,” Blaney said.

Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.