The South Suburban Humane Society is closer to getting a new leash on life as construction began this spring on a new facility in Matteson.
“This is my dream come true so I’ve been there more than I need to be, I’m sure. I just want to see each new thing as it happened. Pouring the foundation walls was just so exciting because it’s an actual building,” SSHS CEO Emily Klehm said. “It really feels real all of the sudden. It’s no longer just dirt.”
Klehm said she hounds the contractors at the site near the intersection of Central Avenue and Lincoln Highway, visiting a couple times each week. SSHS also has weekly meetings and Klehm likes to be around for inspections, too.
Construction was originally slated to begin in April but was postponed about a month due to permitting issues likely related to the pandemic. It rained cats and dogs last month, delaying work nine days, Klehm said.
The plan was to open in January. Instead, construction should be finished by February with a target to open in March.
“We’re roughly back on schedule so we should definitely still have our roof on by October. That’s the big push so that we can continue working through the winter,” she said.
So far, excavation is done. Foundation footings have been poured. Underground plumbing is in process and should be done next week. Rebar is in place and the concrete floors will be poured soon.
“There’s a lot of plumbing because it’s an animal shelter, so many drains and faucets. That takes quite a bit of time,” Klehm said.
The plan hasn’t been altered due to escalated material costs, yet, but SSHS is still looking to close a $600,000 to $700,000 gap in funding with donations. In an ideal situation, the organization wouldn’t need to take out a mortgage on the property.
An Amazon wishlist will be created for supplies when the new building opens, as well. Klehm said a wishlist created when the Homewood Adoption Center opened was an effective tool for SSHS.
Only a couple new staff positions will be needed — a maintenance engineer and a front office worker. The current facility in Chicago Heights is so inefficient that more staff is necessary than normal for a similarly-sized operation, Klehm said.
When the new facility opens, the current one will close. That may be a gradual process and SSHS doesn’t want to leave a vacant property in the neighborhood, Klehm said. The building could be kept to use for storage if there’s difficulty selling it.
“We’ll probably move the animals out one day and into the new building the same day,” Klehm said. “(The Chicago Heights property) is not going to have high resale value. We know that. It’s barely functional as an animal shelter, let alone something a developer might have interest in. We’re not going to just abandon this building, though, by any means. We will maintain the building as long as it’s ours.”
To donate to the new South Suburban Humane Society facility, visit the new facility's website.