May 22-- May 22--Broward commissioners must now decide if the wildlife hospital that's been on the land for almost 50 years can stay, or if it makes more sense for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to use the site for something else, such as a maintenance building.
Commissioners say that no matter what happens, they want to make sure the South Florida Wildlife Center continues to have a home in the county. But center officials caught off guard by the idea fear it could upend their plans to build a new $10 million wildlife hospital.
The wildlife center says it is the nation's busiest, rescuing and rehabilitating about 12,000 wild animals each year -- raccoons, birds, turtles, pelicans, squirrels and whatever other injured creatures the public brings to its doors.
Its team of more than 40 veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators and veterinary assistants work out of rundown accommodations: five mobile-home trailers and an old, cramped single-story home that's been converted into a hospital.
The center already has raised $6 million for a new facility that would have more room, enhanced educational space for classroom and online training, observation areas for people to see the injured wildlife without disturbing it, remote cameras for the public to view surgeries online, and more.
County Administrator Bertha Henry said the wildlife center may be better suited for another site next to the county's Animal Care and Control operation west of the airport. Because both deal with animals, they might work well next to each other, she said.
Wildlife center officials don't object to moving, but they're concerned that any change at this point could impede their plans for a new hospital and the donations committed to it.
Also, they want to make sure the current hospital at 3200 SW Fourth Ave. can continue to operate until the new hospital is built.
"Expedience is the key," executive director Debra Parsons-Drake said. "I can probably convert my donors to an alternative piece of property, but we are at a point now where we're being operated with chewing gum and bailing wire and until I have plans to go forward, we're spending money on property repairs daily."
The center spent $600,000 repairing damage caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The new hospital would be constructed to withstand strong hurricane-force winds. The center is affiliated with the Humane Society.
The wildlife center has an annual budget of about $3 million raised through donations. The county leases its land to the center for a nominal $200 a year.
For several years, the wildlife center has been planning to build at its current county-owned location after it determined that a proposed site in Plantation Heritage Park was not suitable.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote June 4 on a proposed lease extension for the current site.
"I'm not suggesting for a moment that we put them out or not have an alternative that could be mutually beneficial," Henry said. County officials are concerned they need the center's current home because they have little other room available to handle future airport growth needs.
"We are a postage stamp of an airport," Henry told commissioners. "You well know we struggle with land to do anything."
Henry will be meeting with wildlife center representatives over the next two weeks to see if there is a viable option, either at the Animal Care and Control site or some other location.
The center has promised to open the new hospital within five years if the county agrees to extend its lease on the current site through September 2054.
[email protected], 954-356-4556 or Twitter @lbarszewski
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