The storefront at 1009 Garfield St. in Oak Park, the future home of the Animal Care League. Alex Rogals | Staff photographer

Construction is underway on Garfield Street, where crews are building a new welcome center and front-facing adoption center for the Animal Care League (ACL) at 1003 and 1009 Garfield St. Crews broke ground last month, but the transformation of the two buildings is starting to materialize.

“The outline for the walls is up and you can really see what the two buildings are going to look like and the space that we’re going to have for animals,” said ACL Executive Director Kira Robson.

The work is the first phase of a wider four-part plan to expand the nonprofit animal shelter’s premises, which will ultimately allow ACL to take in more animals and increase its in-house care services.

“It is well overdue, and we are so excited,” Robson said of the planned expansion.

ACL spent over a decade trying to buy the run-down, abandoned building at 1009 Garfield St., which sits between three other shelter-owned structures. The shelter was finally able to acquire the property in the summer of 2019, with the help of the Cook County Land Bank Authority.

The first phase of the expansion plan focuses entirely on 1003 and 1009 Garfield St. Eventually each of ACL’s four buildings will be joined to create one large structure, but in the meantime, Robson is thrilled that ACL will finally have a lobby.

“We’re very excited about it because if you’ve ever been here, we don’t have that kind of a space right now,” she said.

The lobby will house the welcome center, as well as offices and a community room, where ACL plans to host birthday parties and seminars. The center is meant to be, as Robson described, “an engaging space for the community.”

Currently, ACL takes in about 1,200 animals each year. With the new adoption center, it will have the ability to house two to three times as many rabbits, cats and dogs and do so in a lower-stress environment. It will also allow for discrete adoption, as well as medical and intake spaces. The full adoption center includes dog suites as opposed to kennels, plus communal cat adoption rooms and suites for cats with feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia. Rabbits haven’t been left out either. The center will feature an expanded rabbit adoption area.

“It’s going to have a really serious impact, not only on the animals we serve, but our volunteers will have a better space to come and volunteer,” said Robson, who expects the first phase of the project to be finished in March or April of this year.

Upon completion, the plan is to move directly into the following phases, which focus on the expansion of ACL’s in-house medical capabilities and construction of training spaces for animals, as well as “real life rooms,” which Robson explained are designed to feel like a home environment to get the animal adjusted to that lifestyle.

How quickly ACL can move forward with phases 2-4 depends entirely on the community, according to Robson. Funding will be key in determining how quickly construction crews will be able to move from phase to phase. ACL plans to announce a capital fundraising campaign in the coming weeks.

“I truly hope that Oak Park is going to realize how important it is for us to have this kind of a facility, both for the animals and the community,” she said.