Building Blocks for Better Buildings

One of my favorite things to do is to set up “industry familiarization trips” for new executives at the manufacturers I get to work with. I’ll typically take a newbie out and visit a few shelters to get them acquainted to our industry and dispel any preconceived notions they may have. There’s a magic moment on nearly every one of those trips that usually happens in the parking lot: “Oh my gosh, this is not what I thought it would be like.” And that’s just the start.

Thanks to people like you, animal welfare is waaaaaaaay past the dark days of facilities that weren’t always the most welcoming environments. Modern shelters are beautiful places where important work is done, where wonderful people match pets with people who will love them. They can also be some of the most beautiful, functional buildings in the communities they serve. That’s not an accident.

Successful projects, whether that’s a full-on “from the dirt up” new construction or an addition or remodel to an existing structure, are the result of a disciplined approach by a cross-functional team of people with a common goal. There are more, but here are two building blocks that will put you on a solid foundation:

Building Block Number One: Embrace the barn-raising philosophy.

Figuratively speaking, of course. The people around you, literally (your associates, community and ultimately, your construction team) and figuratively (The Association!) can be great allies in getting what you need out of your project. All you have to do is ask.

  • Unleash the experts: Your associates, your community and your construction team.

Leaders often feel isolated when it comes to big decisions. It doesn’t have to be that way and it shouldn’t ever be that way. Here’s the thing: you hired experts to help you run your organization…let them be experts!

  • Your veterinary staff probably has opinions on how that area could be best laid out.
  • Your intake people probably know the best way to get animals in without causing unnecessary disruption.
  • Your public education team probably knows how many people to plan for in training sessions.


  • Local businesses who have recently renovated or built have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Utility companies are great resources for ideas on energy saving, water saving and footprint reduction.
  • Your local chamber or Better Business Bureau can point you to reliable contractors and suppliers.

The Construction Team

Once you’ve found a construction team you trust, plan on spending some time with them Judy Calhoun, CEO of the Larimer Humane Society recently completed a new build – a beautiful, well-concepted facility to serve Northern Colorado.  “One thing I would suggest that we did is weekly meetings with the general contractor, architect, construction management firm,” Judy advised. “We’d review progress, do a three week look ahead, discuss decisions that needed to be made by us the owner, upcoming tours, etc. It was a great way to stay in touch with what was happening.”

  • Poll the virtual team: The Association is here to help!
    Okay, as I am writing this, two new questions just hit our Facebook discussion groups:

Newsflash…you’re not the only one to undertake fundraising for new facilities or hiring a great architectural firm. Lots of organizations have done these things and have the success stories and not-so-success stories you can learn from. The strength of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement is that, well, we are The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement. That means we’re here for each other to brainstorm, collaborate and make sure we’re all successful in our endeavors. A question or a comment posted in our discussion groups quickly turns into answers and new friends to help guide the way. I’ve seen vehicles and equipment get exchanged and I even saw a facility change a flooring decision. There is power in our Association…tap into it…contribute to it…watch great things happen! 

Building Block Two: Aim for the now with an eye on the future.

“Don’t skate where the puck is. Skate where the puck is going.” –  NHL great Wayne Gretzky

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

I’ve always loved both of these quotes because they speak to the importance of anticipation and vision. While facility planning is important to ensure current needs are met, it’s just as important to position our facilities for what is to come. That takes foresight as well as a vision of what could be. Because he knew his space would need to function in a variety of ways, James Bias, CAWA, President of SPCA of Texas, modeled his facility in a modular fashion. James and team designed the space with desks, retail shelving and displays all outfitted with wheels to allow for quick re-sets. James also has COWs roaming the halls (nope, not the bovine variety but rather “Computers on Wheels”) so work stations aren’t always stationary. Years ago when The Humane Alliance was known as The Washington Rescue League, management saw something beautiful in their aging building and created a modern shelter with water features, natural lighting and a more inviting layout. They preserved the original building, but someone saw an angel and set it free.

The Golden Rule of Good Construction

If the foundation is good, everything has a better chance to succeed. The relationships you have in your organization, community and among your vendors along with your membership and participation in The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement form a foundation for greatness. Whether that’s a multi-million dollar facility or something on a much smaller scale, tapping into the resources you already have creates solid building blocks and the foundation for greatness.

The Association

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.

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