HOULTON, Maine — One year after a terrible fire killed 16 cats and destroyed the Ark Animal Sanctuary’s new shelter, supporters are optimistic that the rebuilding process will be completed this spring.

“It has been a crazy year for sure,” said Lorraine Monfils, director of the AAS. “We have hit many bumps in the road, but everyone has been very kind and generous.”

Fire officials were never able to determine for sure what sparked the early morning blaze that leveled the sanctuary. The small, one-story building — the product of four years of hard work and dedication from numerous volunteers — had only been open for about four months. The no-kill shelter served as a home for felines, many of which were able to lounge freely, and included a medical-quarantine area, kitchen and loft.

Just a few months earlier on Nov. 2, 2013, Ark officials celebrated the building’s grand opening with an open house ceremony. The group originally had searched for an old farmhouse to become its home, but when a 40-acre parcel of land on Old Woodstock Road was offered, steps were taken to acquire that property. The land was acquired in April 2010, and soon after Ruth and Sonny Golding of Smyrna Mills donated a small house to be placed on the property.

The refuge was viewed as the first step in building a community area, complete with dog walking trails and a dog park where animals could roam without a leash.

Shortly after the fire, assistance requests started pouring in, Monfils said. Two maps can be found inside the Hollywood Pet Salon office in downtown Houlton, with pushpins showing where Ark has received donations from.

“We received donations from all over the U.S and 14 different countries,” she said.

Also, artists from around the country and world — including the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, and Wales — created artwork featuring images of the cats that perished in the fire. The original intent was to auction the pieces as a fundraiser, but Monfils said selling the pieces could not equal the sentimental value they held. Instead, the artwork will be hung at the new sanctuary when it is completed.

A special showing of those pieces of art will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at the Horn Restaurant as part of a benefit buffet dinner/art showcase. The cost is $24.95 per person, with a limited number of tickets available. For more information, call 532-7387.

The artwork also will be displayed at the Blue Moon/Visions Gallery at a future date.

The rebuilding process has been a slow one for a number of reasons. First, getting the insurance money from the fire proved challenging.

“It took nearly four months because the insurance company was not going to pay out,” Monfils said. “At the end I had to write a letter to the board of directors and the president. Three days later, we got the full $80,000 payout.”

A shell of a new building was erected on the property last fall, complete with a well, plumbing and a roof. Louisiana-Pacific donated materials to cover the building and work was progressing nicely until it became too cold to continue.

“Everything that has been done so far has been paid for,” Monfils said. “As soon as it warms up, we will start again.”

Ark officials are sitting with $85,000 in the bank to complete construction. A separate account has been established to cover the HVAC system, which was estimated at $13,000. Thus far, about $8,000 has been raised for that fund.

One hiccup in the construction arose, however, when the Ark was told that if volunteers were used on the site to help build, additional insurance coverage would be needed. Monfils said the group has yet to decide if it will pay the extra premium or seek an alternative route for construction. The goal is to see the project completed in time for a grand opening on Nov. 3.

In addition to the insurance money, donations totaling nearly $50,000 have been received from around the country and world to aid in both construction and caring of animals in foster care.

“The support has been overwhelming,” Monfils said. “We have supporters we have never met, nor had any contact with. We had a lady in Texas apply for a grant for us that brought in $500. We have made so many connections. It is absolutely incredible. We can’t help but succeed with the support we have had.”