From Classroom to Community
By Tracey Bentley, ECS
September 5, 2007
In her life outside James Hall, Kelly Cullen, COLSA associate
professor of Resource Economics and Development, sits on the board
of directors at the Cocheco Valley Humane Society (CVHS), a local animal
CVHS is the only shelter in Strafford County and serves more than 180,000
residents including some in York County, Maine. More than 2,500 surrendered,
unwanted, or abused cats, dogs, birds, and small animals pass through
the doors of CVHS each year.
At the outskirts of Dover, CVHS is off the beaten path and difficult
to find. Since it opened in 1984, the volume of animals entering and
exiting the shelter has far outpaced the scope of the facilities.
The main building—a 100-year-old former piggery for the county
work farm—has long since overflowed and today the 18-member staff
works from a group of deteriorating mobile homes that occasionally sink
into the ground requiring the work of a crane to be extracted and jacked
up. So cramped are the quarters that the shelter relies upon many community
volunteers to foster felines, especially in the height of the busy summer
season, when more than 225 cats take up temporary residency at CVHS.
Compounding these challenges is the fact the shelter has no money to
improve its circumstances.
For Cullen, this presented an opportunity for students in her “New
Hampshire Real Estate” class to gain hands-on field experience
while helping a vital community resource.
“The idea is to find a suitable piece of land in a suitable location,” says
The project, underway now for three semesters, entails finding a parcel
of land on which the CVHS can relocate. The twist? Getting the parcel
Last year, Cullen’s students scoured the towns within the two-county
area, looking for viable parcels in practical locations. They found 80
potential properties along major routes, sent letters to the landowners
requesting a donation of land, and were delighted to hear back from some
of them. Currently, they are discussing options with one.
But procuring the land is just the beginning.
“The ultimate goal,” says Cullen, “is a larger Humane
Society in a better location.”
Last semester, Cullen’s students took the project a step further.
They once again scoured tax maps, this time looking for 10-acre parcels
to be donated and subdivided.
“We looked at 500 different properties that met the criteria,” says
senior Derek Colbath, who stayed on the project in this spring semester
as an independent study.
“Now, we’re sending letters to these landowners, asking
them to donate a portion of their land,” Colbath adds.
If successful, the newly-licensed students will do the legwork of legally
subdividing the land, giving them real-world experience in this type
of real estate transaction and raising money from the sale of one or
two lots for the new Humane Society building fund, which has an estimated
price tag of $1.7 million.
“We’re ecstatic that they took on this project,” says
Candi Enman-Root, CVHS development and marketing manager. “The
concept of a new facility that will benefit all the residents of Stafford
County is very exciting.”
The $1.7 million estimate is for what Inman-Root describes as “modest
“We’re not looking for a large building; we’d like
to do something green—natural building materials as much as possible,” she
says. “Basically, we want it to be a nice shelter where folks will
feel comfortable adopting and surrendering animals.”
The wish list includes room for training and education facilities and
the shelter hopes to be able to accept more animals in distress, such
as horses and injured wildlife.
“Working on the project has been pretty cool,” says Colbath,
who passed the intensive New Hampshire Real Estate Sales Agent license
exam after Cullen’s class. “If it’s something that
actually happens, I’ll be proud,” he adds. Colbath hopes
to pursue a career in town management after completing 10-year commitment
with the U.S. Air Force.
"Kelly and her students´ work is a perfect example of how
our department combines the techniques taught in the classroom with actual
field experience,” says John Halstead, professor and chair of the
department of Resource Economics and Development. “And, it gives
our students a chance to make a difference in the community.