AWA breaks ground on new shelter

Non-profit expects construction to be complete by late 2021

A home for man’s best friend is getting an upgrade in Voorhees Township, as the Animal Welfare Association broke ground Sept. 14 on its highly anticipated shelter, vet clinic and education center.

The 25,000-square-foot building will be constructed on the same grounds as the existing building after its demolition. According to Executive Director Maya Richmond, construction is anticipated to be completed in late 2021, the conclusion of a 10-month project.

The groundbreaking event was the culmination of the nonprofit’s two-year Capital Campaign, with a goal of $2.5 million for the new shelter. According to Capital Campaign Committee Co-Chair Lynn Fryckberg, the AWA recently surpassed 80 percent of its fundraising goal.

The week before the groundbreaking, the AWA allowed supporters of the nonprofit to write thankful messages on the walls of the current shelter and hit portions of it with a sledgehammer. Richmond said the idea was a way to allow supporters of the Animal Welfare Association to participate in the long-awaited ceremony, since COVID-19 precluded a large event.

“We were open to anyone in the community, whether it be volunteers, former adopters or anyone else, the week before, during evening hours, to come in and get a tour of what’s soon to be the former shelter,” Richmond noted.

“We had about 45 people come through and write some really inspiring and heartfelt messages. We were trying to be creative with the fact that we had this giant building that was becoming vacant and originally we wanted to have a party and kick off the construction inside of it, but COVID-19 obviously sidelined that. So we thought of a different way to include the community as much as possible.

“It was our own way to try to honor the fact that this building has helped so many people and animals over the past 50 or so years,” Richmond added.

The new building will increase the nonprofit’s dog and cat maximum population by 50 percent and will be outfitted with multiple air filtration systems to prevent transmission of disease among adoptable animals

Equally as important, Richmond explained the new building will also allow the AWA to offer more educational services and resources to the community.

“Building on the legacy of saving animals’ lives and helping the community, we’re expanding our resource options to the whole community,” Richmond added. “The adoption center will have an area dedicated to rehabilitation for animals that are really fragile and need help. We’ll have a series of community education rooms that will allow us to have different groups every week for different events.”

Richmond hopes the building will enable the AWA to expand its presence in the region, allowing various groups to visit each week and perform different tasks or participate in different events. For example, Richmond said such events could include seniors coming to make toys for animals at the shelter or youth groups visiting to keep some animals company.

While the new shelter is being constructed, Richmond said operations at the AWA’s grounds will continue, although they will look very different. Shelter operations have moved to the pet clinic portion of the grounds, while the pet clinic has moved to temporary trailers.

Due to the moves, Richmond said the association expects to hold fewer adoptable dogs and cats over the next 10 or so months, but increased support from foster families with the AWA has helped make the shifting around of operations an easier transition.

“The help from our foster families has been remarkable,” she noted.  “We knew we would have to count on our foster volunteers to make it through the construction year, but with COVID-19 setting in in March, we’ve seen our foster numbers increase.”