More than 100 people gathered last week to celebrate the official groundbreaking for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s new adoption center in Westbrook.

Construction on the organization’s 25,000 square-foot center began last month behind the current site on Stroudwater Street.

Last Friday, the shelter’s executive director, Patsy Murphy, led the ceremony – a milestone that she said was five years in the making. Funds for the new $6.5 million adoption center, replacing the shelter’s aging facility, have been raised through the past two years. However, Murphy said, there is still a “funding gap” that the shelter is looking to close as construction begins. So far, $5.2 million has been raised.

“It’s the visible beginning of our new journey and history at the league,” she said, thanking donors.

Murphy said last week that the invitation-only event was mostly made up of major donors and their families. The new facility will be known as the Arthur P. Girard Adoption Center, after Girard donated $1 million toward the project. Girard is a commercial real estate developer based in Portland.

Girard’s wife, Fran Girard, said during the ceremony that her husband has had a lifelong dream of creating an animal shelter, eventually forming a partnership with the Animal Refuge League.

“The entire new facility will bring state-of-the-art care to homeless and displaced animals,” she said.

The ceremony was also attended by Westbrook city and school officials, and former Animal Refuge League board members and staff. Murphy said she’s looking forward to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which is expected to take place in a year.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton congratulated the organization, saying that the new center is just another part of a storied history.

“We really look forward to seeing what this new building will look like,” she said.

Hilton added that a collaboration between the shelter and the school department will yield great “connectivity” between the two sites. Westbrook Middle School lies just next door.

The new facility will effectively double the current space, as well as allow for the consolidation of the shelter’s surrounding buildings, including an administrative office. The facility will feature a modern surgical center for care and spay and neuter services, isolation rooms for sick animals, outdoor play areas and meeting rooms for community events. Parking areas will be expanded, and walking trails will connect to the future Landing Road.

Celebrating after the official groundbreaking of the Animal Refuge League’s new adoption center last week are, from left, Fran Girard, Arthur Girard, Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton, Animal Refuge League board president Kevin Mahoney and executive director Patsy Murphy.Staff photo by Andrew Rice

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