More than 200 volunteers, donors, guests and guide dog teams were on hand in December as Guide Dogs of America (GDA) unveiled its latest expansion in Sylmar, Calif. The new 16,000 square foot facility features a bifold liftstrap glass designer door from Schweiss Doors.
The celebration was to dedicate the Macki and Phil Singer Visitor and Education Center on the 7.5 acre campus. The Singers have been GDA supporters for more than 20 years.
The glass designer door from Schweiss Doors is 41-feet, 10 inches wide and 11-feet, 2 inches high. The bifold liftstrap door is fitted with photo eye sensors and is powered by two top-drive 3 h.p. 460v electric motors. Dai General Contracting of Irvine, Calif., served as the general contractor on the project. COO Fred Hanhauser says the door installation was subcontracted to Vortex, which has offices located in eight West Coast states.
“We called around to the big rollup door guys we were used to dealing with to see who does big doors like this and all arrows pointed to Schweiss Doors,” Hanhauser says. “You like to watch the door in action. It’s interesting to watch a door that big open up; it’s pretty cool. The quality is good, I enjoyed working with Schweiss and would gladly do it again.”
The new visitor and education center will allow the school to enhance its visitors’ experience by being able to further educate and give a more in-depth look into its mission: providing professionally trained guide dogs, to graduate more guide dog teams and provide instruction in their use, free of charge, to blind men and women across the U.S. and Canada.
In addition to a new 250-seat auditorium, gift shop, offices and boardroom, the facility will make it possible to conduct day-to-day operations without the concern for weather.
According to Lorri Bernson, Media and Community Liaison for GDA, the large door opens up the facility to an outdoor courtyard, which helps when larger gatherings need a little more room.
“The large glass door is opened to give us a bigger space, if need be. It’s a beautiful way to enhance and expand events in our visitor education center and make it more useful,” Bernson says. “We are very excited to have this new addition to our campus.”
This Visitor and Education Center is just the next step in GDA’s journey to bring life-improving services to blind and visually impaired individuals. “With each person, community group or grammar school field trip that walks through these doors, news of the good work done here will spread far beyond the seven-and-a-half acres on which the school sits,” says IAM International President Bob Martinez.
The cost to provide one guide dog and match it with its new blind partner is more than $48,000. GDA charges nothing to guide dog recipients or their families for its services, which include a guide dog and professional instruction by licensed trainers, room and board for the 21-day instruction period, a specially designed harness, follow-up care, veterinarian care and travel expenses when requested.
“We graduate between 50 and 60 teams (dog and handler) each year,” Bernson says. “The dogs graduate around the age of two. We start having them socialize when they are four weeks old in the nursery, getting them used to being around people. We take them outside until they go home with their puppy raisers. We expose them to all types of surfaces like grass and in wagons to help them with their balance. The puppies leave the nursery when they are 7-8 weeks of age when they go to a volunteer or family, that we call Puppy Raisers. They keep the puppies until they are around 18 months of age. Their job is to take the puppy pretty much everywhere they go, so by the time they become a guide dog, nothing is really new to them.”
Guide Dogs of America
Guide Dogs of America, established in 1848, has paired dogs with thousands of visually impaired people across the United States and Canada. Guide Dogs of America is located in Sylmar, Calif. For more information, call 818-833-6429 or visit www.guidedogsofamerica.org.