CLEARWATER — As the bulldozer blade slammed into the first corner of the dilapidated Humane Society of Pinellas facility on Friday, CEO Jeff Voelpel pondered what was to come.
The nonprofit is now beginning construction on a $4 million state-of-the-art animal adoption center, which will more than double the group’s capacity to rescue and treat animals and replace the dilapidated complex at 3040 State Road 590.
“It’s not just a new building,” Voelpel said. noted. “It’s a reboot for us in how we’re going to expand our reach.”
The $4 million project is fully funded by the founder of cybersecurity company Clearwater KnowBe4, Stu Sjouwerman, and his wife, Rebecca. The couple were honored with a ceremony and given silver shovels which they drove into the ground before the bulldozer got to work.
The Sjouwerman Adoption Center, located just west of McMullen Booth Road, will be 14,000 square feet to house 76 cats, 102 dogs and about a dozen small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs. The building will be air-conditioned and will replace the partially open-air facility that dates from 1949.
The three-story structure will also be built to withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds, a critical feature as an entire wing of kennels in the current facility has been unusable since damage from 2017 Hurricane Irma.
Rebecca Sjouwerman said she was inspired to give the gift after visiting the facility in 2019 and seeing the conditions of some of the kennels, which were outdoors and outdated.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Rebecca Sjouwerman said on Friday. “I am incredibly happy.”
Over the past decade, the number of animals the nonprofit adopts each year has nearly doubled to 2,600 in 2019.
Normal adoption work will continue during construction until the scheduled completion date of fall 2021. In December, the Humane Society moved cat and small pet adoptions to a temporary building on the campus while the dogs are temporarily housed at Pinellas County Animal Services.
However, the upgrade also brings changes to residents who used the Humane Society for veterinary needs. On February 19, the organization will close its low-cost Pinellas Pet Hospital located half a mile away at 2907 State Road 590 to continue medical operations of the shelter during construction.
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Voelpel said the nonprofit is still determining how the public clinical portion of the operation will be structured going forward.
Along with this $4 million animal welfare donation, the Sjouwermans also pledged $2 million in November to help the City of Dunedin and Pinellas County purchase a 44-acre property on Keene Road from preservation purposes.
The couple are also prominent donors to the Church of Scientology, of which they are longtime members. In 2019, they donated at least $5 million to the International Association of Scientologists, which was created by Scientology leader David Miscavige to pay for efforts to spread the religion.