Ascension Parish government plans to invest nearly $291,000 into its aging animal shelter building to address conditions one parish official called "unfathomable" even as an oversight board for the shelter prepares longer term plans for a new building.

But parish officials say the investment is necessary for CARA's House's current digs, a metal building off Airline Highway near Sorrento, due to poor conditions that include roof leaks and electrical problems.

The building has also been susceptible to flooding through the years during major storms and floods, sometimes forcing CARA's House to evacuate the dogs and cats in its care to Lamar-Dixon Expo Center near Gonzales.

In years past, CARA's House workers have also had to bring in extra heat lamps for the animals during the coldest months.

Voters have been paying a 1-mill property tax since the end of 2019 to finance the shelter's operations, which are run by the nonprofit Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension, and to amass the funds to pay for a new shelter building.

Ricky Compton, director of the parish Planning and Facilities Management Division, explained the need to renovate the old building earlier this month as the Parish Council approved the low bidder for the job, BRP Construction of Baton Rouge.

Compton said officials in the new administration of President Clint Cointment evaluated the future of that building after they took office last year and decided it needed improvements to keep it going until the shelter tax can build up enough money to pay for a new home for CARA's House.

"We made a determination that what they're dealing with over there is … it's unfathomable," Compton said. "It's not … it's not fit not only for the animals we're trying to save and rescue but the people that are working there."

He said the investment won't go to waste once a new shelter is built, however, because officials plan to convert the building into a shop where the parish's maintenance and grounds crews can do repair work once CARA's House leaves.

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Under the bid proposal the parish advertised, BRP Construction is expected to install new electrical wiring, light fixtures, receptacles and heating and air conditioning systems, including for the animal kennels, and to make drainage improvements.

BRP Construction beat out four other firms for the job, whose bids ranged from $299,000 to $347,100, bid documents show. The budgeted price was $400,000. BRP Construction bid $290,988.89.

Council members did not raise objections to the investment during a virtual meeting Jan. 21. Councilman Corey Orgeron, who has sometimes clashed with Compton in the past, told Teri Casso, the council chairwoman, that Compton's answers were "fantastic."

Orgeron said he had received questions from his constituents about why the parish would spend money on a building that it eventually planned to have the shelter leave.

"I wanted the public to hear the reason and the justification behind doing this," Orgeron said. 

The low bid was adopted without opposition on Orgeron's motion.

Compton didn't discuss the time frame for building a new shelter building last week, but officials on the parish Animal Services Board, which had its first meeting in March, suggested then it could be two years before construction on the new building starts.

The 10-year shelter tax, which was adopted in December 2018, raises about $1.32 million per year but has had just two years of collections so far.

Property tax bills are sent out at the end of each year and usually are collected at year's end and into the first months of the new year.

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