Renovation of nonprofit campus aimed for 2011

[caption id="attachment_22955" align="alignright" width="324" caption=" The planned Welcome Center"][/caption]

SAN RAFAEL – Guide Dogs for the Blind, which each year teaches hundreds of new "teams" of dogs and visually impaired people to work together, plans to start construction on a $30 million renovation of its San Rafael main campus next year.

The 68-year-old nonprofit wants to break ground in spring 2011 on four buildings for the 11-acre campus at 350 Los Ranchitos Road and finish by fall 2012. It aims to have a capital campaign of $5 million to $10 million and then finance the rest.

The estimated $23 million in construction will be done in phases to accommodate classes for 350 new teams annually plus visits by 2,200 active graduates for additional training and follow-up veterinary care. "We now have a new model, so class sizes are smaller and held more frequently," said Nancy Gardner, president and chief executive officer.

Now, each class has 12 students, each in a separate room. The planned 23,000-square-foot residence hall will have 19 suites to allow for growth in the program and flexibility to allow families to attend training.

People who would be paired with a dog for the first time spend two to three weeks on campus, but those who have worked with a dog before often attend for shorter periods.

"The shorter class time is popular for people who work or have families," Ms. Gardner said.

The campus renovation plan, designed and coordinated by Starkweather Bondy Architecture of Oakland and approved by the city April 27, swaps locations for student housing and administrative functions.

The residence hall's new location will be quieter and have more privacy from the tracks along the property to be used for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit passenger line, which is set to start rolling in 2014.

The residence hall also will have classrooms, a dining room, lounge and a second courtyard.

The planned 34,000-square-foot Welcome Center will house administration for the San Rafael and Oregon campuses plus an auditorium for indoor graduations and training during bad weather as well as an interpretive center.

As part of that adjustment, an events plaza between the residences will be screened from the tracks, according to Ms. Gardner.

[caption id="attachment_22956" align="alignright" width="341" caption="Architectural renderings of the planned renovation of the 11-acre Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in San Rafael"][/caption]

Existing redwood and other trees and mature shrubs are being incorporated into the design, but other landscaping is being adapted to help students get around the campus easily while adjusting to their dogs, said Ken Stupi, chief financial officer.

"We're improving mobility by straightening walkways," he said. "For blind and visually impaired students, that's very important."

The courtyards will be screened from passing trains for student privacy.

Starkweather Bondy will be coordinating bidding from a select group of contractors in December.

Guide Dogs for the Blind was formed in 1942 to help blinded military service people and now has 289 employees, two-thirds of whom work at the San Rafael campus. In addition to 800 on-campus volunteers, with 600 in Marin, the organization has thousands of volunteers in Western states working with 160 dogs in breeding colonies and 900 puppies in foster care.

The organization has a $30 million annual operating budget, 45 percent of which is supplied via operating reserves and the rest through bequests and foundations. The group covers costs of student transportation to and from the campuses and supplies dogs at no charge.

Nearly 83 percent of the operating budget funds programs. It costs more than $65,000 to raise each dog and train it for three months and $2.6 million a year for in-house veterinary services.

The dogs are part of a team for an average of more than seven years. A third of the people who come through the program are age 50 on average.

For more information, call 800-295-4050 or visit www.guidedogs.com.