Case Study

South Suburban Humane Society

Matteson, IL

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South Suburban Humane Society lobby.


The South Suburban Humane Society (SSHS) was incorporated in 1970 as a small group of volunteers who brought homeless pets into their homes and worked tirelessly to find them permanent homes through word of mouth and neighborhood outreach. Over the years, they grew to a 501c3 nonprofit organization and in June 2022 their new 19,761 square foot animal resource campus was built in Matteson, IL. The new out of ground facility takes in more than 4,000 pets annually and impacts the lives of the animals and the people who love them.

The Situation

The number of strays that came into SSHS had increased by 108% from 2016 to 2019 and they were outgrowing their facility capabilities by the day. With the new intake of animals, they had no dedicated space for humane educational programs or community group visits which is essential to their mission as well as their vision.

The Needs

Their facility needs were growing and they were struggling to keep up with the upkeep and inefficiencies of the layout. For example, their current adoption rooms had no drains and no direct access to the outside. This meant that all dogs had to be walked through a hallway and large room to go outside for the morning kennel cleaning, and employees had to towel dry all kennels which was inconvenient and for the staff as well as an inefficient use of their time and resources.

RWE’s Approach

We worked closely with the team at SSHS to ensure their new facility was going to solve their previous problems, and also allow them to build on the foundation they have set and the goals they had for the future. The design and construction revolved around the project goals below:

  • To build a modern, intentional campus from the ground up where the pets and people of Chicago’s South Suburbs will have a beautiful space for adoption, services and educational opportunities.
  • Increase the size of the current facility to allow for more intake of strays
  • Include separate entrances for Adoptions & Intake
  • Modern double-sided animal housing designed for lowering stress on the animals
  • Several separate isolation and holding areas to minimize disease and stress
  • Natural light exposure in most areas
  • Educational and event room with a gorgeous outdoor patio for classes, birthday parties, groups and events
  • Appropriate administrative and volunteer office space, bathrooms, storage, separated laundry and food preparation by species
  • Outdoor walking trails in a prairie/wetland setting for the whole community



Challenges & solutions

During our design and construction phase, we worked through several challenges with our engineers, soil experts, clients and government agencies.

The Challenge

South Suburban Humane Society was extremely lucky to find a beautiful piece of land owned by the Village of Matteson. The total land is 120 acres and includes protected wetlands which can be difficult to build on without the proper precautions.


RWE worked closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers and other government and environmental agencies to identify the specific area of the land that we could build the new facility on.

In the end, the facility sits in the middle of the land with a sweeping drive that offers a panoramic view of the wetlands. There is a walking trail around the building that connects to a 30 mile hiking and biking trail so that the opportunities for shelter dog walks are amazing.


There were numerous material shortages since this project was being built during the middle of the Covid pandemic. The exposed 26 ft tall A-frame initially was going to be refinished timbers, but they weren’t available at the time.


RWE provided options for an alternative material that was available at the time. Our engineers performed calculations and created a visually identical option that would still be structurally sound as well as visually pleasing.

With the change in materials, it delayed the timeline for this section of the building, so the team continued with the rest of the construction and securely isolated the A-frame area to protect the Lobby area and not fall behind schedule.


Project Features

One of the goals of the new facility for the South Suburban Humane Society was to add an animal resource campus where all pets and people in need across Chicago’s Southland could have one location to get services.

The design was intentional to look like three “store fronts” with clear entrances for Adoption, the Resource Center, and Clinic with a shared vestibule to the Spay/Neuter Clinic and the Low-Cost Veterinary Services. Back staff hallways connect all the departments for a seamless back of house experience.


In the previous shelter, SSHS did not have true isolation for contagious diseases. RWE worked with them to build both Cat Isolation and Dog Isolation units which have separate laundry facilities contained within and dedicated ventilation to isolate illness within the shelter.  Overall, the design aligns with Shelter Medicine protocols. Both clinics were designed and built with best practices from the ASPCA’s Spay/Neuter protocols.

The entire building has 100% outside air which helps with odor control.  We consulted with Acoustical Solutions for noise control and utilized a combination of special dry wall to keep surgery quiet and noise reduction panels throughout the building.

Although we knew these goals would require complex and innovative solutions, our team was able to utilize our resources and vast experience in the animal care industry and humane society projects we’ve completed in the past to deliver a beautiful and functional space.

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