Normally, the Forever Wild Animal Sanctuary out in Phelan is on a relatively isolated piece of property, accessible only by dirt roads, with more animal than human neighbors.


Drive out there today, to the animal sanctuary, where the Almquist family takes in abused and abandoned exotic animals, and you'll find a small city -- a cold, muddy, damp, but incredibly busy city.


The Almquists are the recipients of a home makeover by the producers of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition television show. Joel and Chemaine Almquist have provided a home for tigers, tortoises, parrots, alligators, lynx, a cobra and more. In February 2008, the Almquists took in 197 snakes and lizards after they were found abandoned in a Hesperia garage.


The expenses have meant the Almquists' own home took a back seat, even as Joel works a second job to support the shelter and his wife Chemaine works to raise funds from the community. The family lives in a doublewide trailer without heat or air-conditioning, has leaking pipes, has gaping holes in the doors and is partially held together with duct tape.


Or at least, they did.


An army of volunteers from across Southern California, including a number of Victor Valley builders, are hard at work creating a new house, a learning center and improving the animals' living area at the sanctuary.


"There was a debate, should we remodel the existing home for a learning center, but it was in such bad shape, it would be a nightmare to remodel," said Tom Steeno, of Steeno Design Studio in Hesperia.


The Almquists' new four-bedroom, three-bath, 3,300-plus square foot house incorporates a bit of exotic flavor into the design.


"I call it a contemporary tribal ranch design," Steeno said. "We're getting in a lot of black, a contemporary design. It still overall has a ranch feel to the exterior. ... It's tribal in some of the colors and textures that we're doing."


The animals -- who were moved off-site during remodeling and construction -- also got their own renovation project.


"We kept the original cages, just enhanced them," Steeno said. "We added a big playground, with a waterfall and a pool for them to swim."


Among those working on the site were employees of Smitty's Concrete Pumping, owned and operated by Hesperia Mayor Thurston "Smitty" Smith.


"We did a pond and some sort of a waterfall and a kind of a deck around the waterfall," Smith said.


The rain Friday afternoon forced a planned concert by Billy Ray Cyrus to be moved from the site to Boulder Creek Ranch, while work continued at the house, in advance of the iconic revealing of the house to the Almquists by the show's host, Ty Pennington.


"It's crazy. There's tons of people here. Right now, we're down to the wire. We were behind before the rain, and now we're worse off," Steeno said. "Everybody's been great. Everybody's happy, everybody's upbeat. Everyone's 'what can I do, what can I do?'"


The show has been to the Victor Valley before, building a home for another Phelan family in 2004. But those were very different economic times. Today, many of the Southern California builders involved in the project are struggling to stay in business, but donated their time and their money anyway.


"It'll probably cost me a thousand dollars this week," said Smith. "It's for a good cause. When they called upon me, I wanted to be a part of it."


"It's been very tough for us. I had to lay off guys. We downsized. We're doing a lot less," said Steeno, who slept at the sight in a company recreational vehicle during the 24-hours-a-day, seven-day construction project. "I can do this. I mean, we're not destitute, believe me. ... I can't say no to this. There was no way I could say no."


"I'm seeing people out here that I haven't seen in 10 years, 20 years," Steeno said Friday. "It's been really fun."


"It's just for people who have been doing things for animals for years," Smith said. "It's well-deserved."


Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is seen locally Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on KABC 7. The episode featuring the Almquists' new home will air some time in early April, but no firm date has been set at this time.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.