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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 shelter.

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 Cullen.

The project, underway now for three semesters, entails finding a parcel of land on which the CVHS can relocate. The twist? Getting the parcel donated.

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 facility.”

“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.

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