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The Humane Educational Society of Hamilton County has taken another step toward a long-needed new building.

Executive Director Bob Citrullo said the organization recently closed on the $380,000 purchase of a 6.8-acre tract near Highway 153 and Bonny Oaks Drive.

The Chattanooga City Council voted in June to rezone the property at 4155 Randolph Circle to allow an animal shelter.

The next step — and it's a long one, Citrullo said — likely will be a capital campaign beginning, perhaps, next year to raise funds for the new structure.

Citrullo said the Humane Educational Society hired him four years ago specifically to lead development of a vision for a new shelter. The present location, a 70-year-old former children's home on North Highland Park Avenue, is crumbling around the staff and the hundreds of pets sheltered there.

"It's an old building that hasn't been adequate for years, even never, because it was never designed to be an animal shelter," he said.

The Times Free Press reported in May that some neighbors on Randolph Circle had reservations about building the shelter there, but the Humane Society was able to soothe their concerns about noise, lighting and other issues.

At that time, the paper reported Citrullo was looking at a 30,000- to 35,000-square-foot building costing around $13 million.

On Friday, he said he's guesstimating a cost of $10 million to $12 million, but he won't know for sure until plans for the facility are a lot more solid.

"It's time now to sit down and lay out the groundwork and say, 'We're going to be specific now,'" Citrullo said. "We feel we can raise X amount — our job is to bring that to the table and then say, 'Hey, we're looking for help.' Our goal is to raise $3 million on our own, and we feel like we can do that, but we can't raise $10 million."

He's hoping a supportive community will kick in with donations of money, materials and labor, and he hopes Hamilton County government will help.

"They need our service and they have been very supportive — they understand it's a service somebody has to provide, and they believe we are better at it than they would be."

The county pays the Humane Educational Society around $621,000 a year to provide animal welfare and protection services. That's about a third of the organization's annual budget of $1.7 million to $1.8 million, Citrullo said. The society has similar contracts with some municipalities, but depends on fundraising to perform its mission of sheltering and offering pets for adoption.

He is thankful for "significant" private support for that mission, Citrullo said.

"I always want to thank the community for their help, because without it we couldn't do what we do," he said.

According to its website, the Humane Society was incorporated in 1910 by Ethel Hardy who used to drive her carriage through the streets of Chattanooga picking up stray cats and dogs.

"Since then, we have grown to serve Hamilton County and take in 4,000-5,000 homeless pets each year. We are an open-door facility to residents of our service area and provide shelter and care for homeless pets, adoption services, animal protection, cruelty investigation and pet licenses," the website states.

"[The Humane Educational Society] is committed to finding each and every treatable, adoptable and trainable animal in our facility a loving home and making Hamilton County a better place for pets."

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