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Tight budget aside, MARL is building new complex

Jackson — After years of planning and fundraising, the Mississippi Animal Rescue League (MARL) is set to begin moving dirt on a new, state-of-the-art facility in South Jackson this spring. Located on 53 acres on Greenway Drive, the approximately $2-million complex has broken ground and is expected to be completed by November 2005.

Plans for the new complex are still being finalized as MARL continues to work with David Burnet, architect with the firm Canizaro, Cawthon, Davis Architects, and Tom Black, vice president of Harrell Contracting Group, LLC, both of Jackson, to bring the project within budget.

At press time, the project was still out of the price range of MARL, which relies solely on donations and memberships for funding. Burnet continues to work with MARL to find where cuts or compromises to the plan can be made, while Black is working with his peers to obtain donated materials in order to bring down construction costs.

Budget squeeze

“It’s fairly common when working with nonprofits to have tight budget constraints,” said Burnet, who has been working on the project since 1999 and once traveled to Orlando, Fla., and a Humane Society of the United States meeting to show just how dedicated he was to the project. “I am very impressed with the site and the people at MARL. I will be very thrilled to see the facility completed.”

Harrell has a long history of working with non-profit organizations. Working under the Mississippi Associated Builders and Contractors Spirit of Building Campaign, it has been involved in numerous community-minded projects.

However, Black said Harrell’s role in the MARL project is new for the firm as it helps the organization stay within budget.

“It is a unique situation in that we are offering expanded construction services by soliciting construction industry-related contributions,” he said. “I personally want this project to be a success for all the contributing individuals. I want to be a good steward of their contributions.”

“I can’t say enough about Tom and David and the work of the people at Harrell Contracting and Canizaro, Cawthon, Davis,” said Joe D. Jones, publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal and president of MARL’s board. “They have done an outstanding job of listening to us and our needs and meeting those needs with a facility that is still within our budget. This project would not have been possible without their knowledge, expertise and commitment.”

Yet more challenges

While exact dimensions are still not firm, MARL director Debra Boswell said the new complex would probably encompass approximately 14,000 square feet, which is nearly double the current facility. And it needs the space. An open shelter, meaning it will accept anything from a canary to a tiger, MARL receives more than 14,000 animals annually. Boswell said the extra space would make MARL a better place for its staff, the public and even the animals.

“We will be able to separate animals by species at the new facility,” she said. “Any cat lover will tell you that the last thing a kitten wants is to be around a bunch of yapping puppies.”

Other planned features include expanded administrative areas and lobby, an education room, a sally port so animal control personnel can pull their trucks in and deliver animals at any hour, an education room, private area for adoptions, visitation rooms and more.

“The new facility will help further MARL’s mission,” Boswell said. “We will be able to showcase the animals. It will be bright and open, and will be a more attractive place for both visitors and our staff.” She added, with a laugh, “I really love the sally port. Currently, animal control people call me at all hours of the night needing in to unload animals. With the new facility, they will have around-the-clock access. They will be able to back into the facility and unload without my assistance. I’m looking forward to getting better sleep.”

Perhaps the most significant feature of the new facility will be a state-of-the-art air purification system, which at $300,000 represents approximately 15% of the total construction cost. The system is needed to protect the health of both people and animals, cutting out allergens and air-borne diseases.

“The system will totally replace the air in the complex approximately 15 times every hour. That’s a lot,” Burnet said. And he added that the air will not just be discarded, but rather will be recycled through energy reclamation technology.

Black said Harrell has challenges to meet. Not the least of which is where to position the facility on site.

“The challenge is to find the most cost-effective location for the building,” Black said. “It’s a big, beautiful site, and we want to position the facility on it so it is aesthetically pleasing. But we don’t want to spend all the money on a long driveway, and we have to be concerned with Yazoo clay.”

Jones said he anticipates dirt work beginning as soon as weather will allow. Black said he expects that to be late April.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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