Aiken County is one step closer to breaking ground for its new animal shelter.

The Friends of the Animal Shelter presented a check for $125,000 to Aiken County on Tuesday evening during the regular Council meeting. That donation fulfills the nonprofit's commitment to pay for the design work by architectural firm McMillan Pazdan Smith for a new animal shelter.

The County expects to break ground as early as February.

“(FOTAS) are the most wonderful group of people I have ever worked with,” said Councilwoman Kathy Rawls during the meeting. “How did Aiken County get so lucky?”

Friends' President Jennifer Miller said the new shelter has been years in the making. She added that this is the biggest check the organization has ever written, and thanks the community for its support of both FOTAS and the Aiken County Animal Shelter.

“We're an animal friendly community,” Miller said. “We want a shelter that can we can all be proud to go to and adopt pets as well as have a facility that can take proper care of its animals.”

Miller said the goal of FOTAS is to see that no adoptable pet is euthanized. She feels that the new shelter, along with the spay and neuter program, will help the organization reach that goal.

The rest of the project will be paid by the County through one-cent sales tax funds, totaling approximately $1.5 million.

Council also awarded a bid for $2,224,999 to J.E. Stewart for the construction of the new shelter Tuesday evening.

The gap between the construction bid and what has been budgeted is $700,000.

“We have an existing capital funds account, but it has been pretty well depleted with up-front funding for projects in Capital Projects Sales Tax round 2,” said County Administrator Clay Killian.

For instance, the County fronted $1.4 million from the account to pay for the purchase of the building on Beaufort Street that now houses the Aiken County Health Department.

The County already fronted $1 million for the shelter and will pay itself back with funds from the one-cent Capital Projects Sales Tax round 3. A total of $5 million was allocated in round three for the health department, so the savings could be used to cover the $700,000 funding gap for the animal shelter.

It is just a matter of shifting funds, which Council will have to OK.

The new shelter project is an effort to abate overcrowding and give staff more work space. The new building will be 11,000 square feet in comparison to the existing facility's 5,000 square feet.

The new shelter would be constructed on a 4-acre lot located on the corner of Wire Road and May Royal Drive.

It will include three separate wings connected by covered walkways.

The middle wing will house the public lobby, staff cubicles and meeting rooms. A laundry and cleaning room, food storage, medical prep room and surgery room will be located in the back portion of the middle wing.

The left wing will be designated for adoptions and will have its own air and exhaust system to cut down on the spread of airborne diseases. It will include three dog pods with 10 to 12 guillotine kennels, which are equipped with a door that can be lifted and lowered giving a canine access to the covered, open-air half of the kennel.

Bonding rooms will also be in the left wing for potential adopters to interact with the animal they're considering to take home.

The right wing will be designated for intake of surrendered animals and captured strays.