Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells and Frankfort City Manager Keith Parker met with the Franklin County Humane Society during a special meeting on Tuesday to ask the organization to consider The State Journal building for use as a new animal shelter.
In 2018, Humane Society President Sam Marcus asked the Frankfort City Commission and Franklin County Fiscal Court to contribute $1.6 million each to the construction of a new shelter. In return, the Humane Society pledged to raise $2 million.
The total project was estimated at the time to cost $5 million.
In September 2018, Marcus asked the city commission and fiscal court to make a decision by Nov. 26, 2018.
Both the city and county argued that $1.6 million each was too much, so the parties have been negotiating an agreement since.
Now, the Humane Society is asking for the city and county to contribute $1 million each with the promise of raising $2 million on its own toward a $4 million project. On Monday, Marcus said if the city and county agree to commit $1 million each, the Humane Society would break ground on a new facility within a year.
Wells said that while The State Journal building would need some renovations to meet the shelter’s operating requirements, phase one of renovations could be completed within several months. The shelter could move into a new space quicker instead of years from now, which is how long it would take to construct a new building.
The current Humane Society building, located at 1041 Kentucky Ave., is 50 years old, has spacing issues and a flooding problem.
On Dec. 2, the Humane Society’s board unanimously passed a resolution to not consider The State Journal building and to move forward with building a brand new facility on Carpenter Farm, off the East-West Connector Road. The group also introduced its new request of $1 million each from the city and county for a $4 million facility after making revisions to the original project plan.
"Sacrifices were made," Marcus said.
During the special meeting, it was revealed that not all of the board members have toured The State Journal Building. Wells said his goal for the special meeting was to encourage the board as a whole to visit the newspaper’s building and reconsider.
“The State Journal building has a lot to offer,” Parker said.
The State Journal announced last January it was placing its building for sale with the desire to relocate back downtown.
Built in 1997, the 19,145-square-foot building is at 1216 Wilkinson Blvd. next to the U.S. Post Office and across from Buffalo Trace Distillery. The property sits on 3.2 acres.
State Journal Publisher and President Steve Stewart said the building was appraised last January at $1.67 million and is listed at $1.59 million. He said he was open to a lower sale price should the building be chosen as the home of a new animal shelter.
"The State Journal is pleased that our building is being considered as an option for filling a critical and urgent need in the community," Stewart said. "We stand ready to be a good partner to the Humane Society, city and county as they explore the most efficient and expeditious way to bring a new animal shelter to fruition."
According to a consulting firm that studied the feasibility of converting the facility to an animal shelter, The State Journal building is in “very good condition.”
Parker and Wells said they have walked through the building and agree with the assessment.
The consulting firm also estimated that to renovate the entire building to fulfill the shelter’s goals for its new facility would cost $5 million.
Parker believes that estimate is a little high and it might cost less to fully renovate the building. He also suggested that renovations be done in phases.
Marcus listed the reasons the Humane Society did not vote to purchase The State Journal building.
Marcus said he and the board are worried about the life of the building, since their goal is for a new shelter to last at least 50 years. He said the way the building is designed is not ideal for the shelter's need to have separate intake and adoption entrances.
Another issue, he said, is that the building’s current HVAC system is around 15 years old and will probably need to be replaced soon, which the consulting firm estimated would cost $500,000.
To maintain disease control, the Humane Society has to have a working HVAC system.
Marcus said the installation of a drain system for the kennels would also cost a lot of money.
Wells and Parker said they understand the board’s concerns, but they still want the organization to reconsider.
“Our separate bodies are not going to agree to $1 million,” Wells said, adding he’s not even sure he can get fiscal court to agree to $750,000.
Parker agreed but said the city commission might be willing to donate that much since The State Journal building is a quicker, more secure option than giving the Humane Society $1 million that might take it years to spend.
City Commissioner Scott Tippett, who attended the meeting, confirmed that while the city commission is in support of a new facility, not everyone is in favor of giving the Humane Society $1 million.
He added that one figure that was thrown around was not even close to $1 million.
“We’re trying to solve this problem,” Parker said.
Wells added that the city and county are not telling the Humane Society no for the sake of saying no but for the sake of the process moving along quicker.
Magistrates J.W. Blackburn, Michael Mueller and Marti Booth were at the meeting but did not speak since there was a quorum of the fiscal court present.
After the meeting, which was an hour and 45 minutes long, the Humane Society board went into closed session.
Marcus said that while the board did not make a decision, he believes the board members who have not toured The State Journal building will schedule one soon.