CLEARWATER — As the bulldozer’s blade came crashing down onto the first corner of the Humane Society of Pinellas’ dilapidated facility on Friday, CEO Jeff Voelpel thought about what’s to come.
The nonprofit now begins construction on a $4 million, state-of-the-art pet adoption center, which will more than double the group’s capacity to rescue and treat animals and replace the ramshackle complex at 3040 State Road 590.
“This is not just a new building,” Voelpel said. “It’s a restart for us in how we are going to be expanding our reach.”
The $4 million project is fully funded by Clearwater cyber security firm KnowBe4 founder Stu Sjouwerman and his wife, Rebecca. The couple was honored with a ceremony and given silver-plated shovels that they pushed into the soil before the bulldozer went to work.
The Sjouwerman Adoption Center, located just west of McMullen Booth Road, will have 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 climate controlled, replacing the partially open-air facility that dates to 1949.
The three-story structure will also be built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane-force winds, a vital feature since an entire wing of kennels in the current facility has been unusable since damage caused in 2017 by Hurricane Irma.
Rebecca Sjouwerman said she was inspired to give the gift after touring the facility in 2019 and seeing the conditions of some of the kennels, which were outdoors and outdated.
“I am absolutely thrilled to bits,” Rebecca Sjouwerman said on Friday. “I am so 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 through construction until the expected fall 2021 completion date. In December, the Humane Society relocated cat and small pet adoptions to a temporary building on the campus while dogs are temporarily being housed at Pinellas County Animal Services.
However the upgrade is also bringing change to residents who’ve used the Humane Society for veterinary needs. On Feb. 19 the organization will close its low-cost Pet Hospital of Pinellas located half a mile away at 2907 State Road 590 in order to continue shelter medical operations during construction.
Voelpel said the nonprofit is still determining how the public clinic portion of the operation will be structured in the future.
Besides this $4 million gift for animal welfare, the Sjouwermans also pledged $2 million in November to help the city of Dunedin and Pinellas County buy a 44-acre property on Keene Road for preservation.
The couple are also prominent donors to the Church of Scientology, where they are longtime members. As of 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 expand the religion.