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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / People gather around as Humane Educational Society Executive Director Phil Snyder, at podium, speaks during a ground breaking ceremony for the new HES facility on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
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After years of providing animal services to Hamilton County from a 100-year-old building, the Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga is one step closer to having a new home.

Shelter officials, volunteers and elected officials — and even a few dogs — gathered Thursday at a groundbreaking to celebrate the next step.

"You know, this kind of feels like the movie 'Field of Dreams.' Build it and they will come," Zan Guerry, a shelter donor and advocate, said during the event. "Not only the wonderful animals, but this setting will bring much more adoptions and donors will donate to support the facility and its programs."

The current shelter on North Highland Park Avenue has been in operation for 119 years and has long struggled with infrastructure and overcrowding problems. It provides animal control services for unincorporated areas of Hamilton County as well as most smaller cities in Hamilton County; McKamey Animal Center serves the city.

The new 30-square-foot location is at Randolph Circle off Highway 153 near Bonny Oaks Drive. It will be equipped to house more than 300 cats and dogs. The facility is expected to cost an estimated $13 million, $10 million of which will come from the county and the rest from private donors.

With some of the $3 million in private funding left to be raised, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger called for citizen support of the project.

"While the county is thrilled to support this great and much-needed project, the philanthropy of our community has also helped make this dream a reality," he said Thursday. "We are very grateful for the donors who have also pledged their support towards this new facility. It will help take the care of Hamilton County's animals to the next level."

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The bulk of the money, approved by the county commission late last year, will come from the county's capital projects fund created when the commission approved its first property tax increase in a decade on Sept. 6, 2017. The one-time windfall was created because of the time frame between the time the county issued the bonds in March 2018 and when projects funded by the tax increase required debt service payments.

The significant contribution to the center drew criticism from Commissioner Tim Boyd, who questioned the upscale facility's $350-per-square-foot price tag.

Paying that much for the animal shelter is twice what it costs to build a school, Boyd said at a meeting earlier this year, when the commission was approached about funding for homelessness initiatives in Chattanooga.

"I couldn't escape the irony of hearing that we are spending $350 a square foot for dogs and cats and then ... [Former] Mayor Ron Littlefield comes up and tells us that there is no money for the homeless," he said. "It makes no sense."

The center is designed to have modern, state-of-the-art animal confinement areas with appropriate air exchanges, making it more comfortable for animals and potential adopters alike. It will feature a veterinary clinic able to handle surgeries such as spaying and neutering, according to a news release. It will also have separate entrances for adoptions and surrendering of animals and an education center for children to learn more about the animals and the responsibilities that come with being pet owners.

Along with a new location, the shelter will get a new name.

Foy Animal Shelter, set to open in fall 2020, will be named for contributors John and Trish Foy, who were honored at Thursday's event.

"We are extremely thankful for the work that John and Trish Foy have done and continue to do for [the Humane Educational Society]," Tai Federico, board chairman for the shelter, said. "Through their generous contribution, they have enabled [the society] to provide the best facilities and care for the homeless animals of Hamilton County, and it is an honor to name our new facility after them."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at staylor@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @_sarahgtaylor.

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