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Issue: 66 - Jun 15, 2014
The Practical, Affordable Hospital
By: Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB
Animal Arts

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough information about how to keep hospital design simple and affordable for the typical veterinary practice?  You’re not the only one!  As the pressures on small practices continue to grow, we see an urgent need to provide more options to new and fledgling practices.

This month we are pleased to feature a project for Dr. Katie Thomas and Dr. Nancy Bureau of Left Hand Animal Hospital in Niwot, Colorado.  This project was constructed for about half of the normal cost per square foot of the average, leasehold veterinary practice.  Despite the smaller price tag, it is practical, well organized, and an enjoyable place to work.

This month we’ll share ten tips borrowed from Drs. Thomas and Bureau that may help you create your own affordable project!

  1. Try a leasehold.  In a previous post, we described the comeback of the leasehold practice as a post-recession phenomenon.  While many people dream of owning their own property, new practices may have trouble with the cost of purchasing and developing land.  Have your financial team run the numbers for you.  You may discover that a tenant finish is a more affordable option for your newly-established business.
  2. Look carefully for the right space to develop.  Our clients developed a small space in a quaint downtown area, adjacent to antique shops and restaurants.  While there might have been less expensive spaces available, this space gives them prime visibility and encourages them to become vital members of the downtown community.  Left Hand Animal Hospital has committed to donating one percent of their client receipts to community causes. 
  3. Keep to the basics.  A small practice may not have the luxury to offer many ancillary services, such as boarding.  There is nothing wrong with designing a basic veterinary hospital that maximizes exam room space and medical treatment areas.  Left Hand Animal Hospital has found other ways to expand services to their clients, using the same core spaces.  For example, they offer non-traditional services such as integrative medicine and acupuncture.
  4. Don’t build more ward space than you need.  As an extension of tip three, it is typical for general veterinary practices to do very little hospitalization of pets.  Therefore, building a lot of ward space is commonly a misallocation of resources.  Go through a careful analysis of what you need and focus on the money-making portions of the hospital.
  5. Concrete floors are OK.  There is some debate about the appropriateness of concrete.  It cracks, the sealers need periodic maintenance, and it’s not perfectly non-porous.  But it’s still fairly practical for a general veterinary practice.  Left Hand Animal Clinic is designed with stained and sealed concrete floors throughout.  These floors are carefully maintained to provide a smooth and sanitary surface.
  6. Build the walls to the ceiling.  In this build-out, the ceiling was designed as a continuous plane to which the walls are constructed.  The alternative is to build a ceiling in each room, which is more labor intensive.  Rooms that require sound insulation should have walls that extend to the building structure to prevent sound from flanking over the tops of walls. 
  7. Simplify the cabinetry.  In this practice, we saved a lot of money by using open shelving for upper cabinet storage and by eliminating base cabinets in favor of a simple counter.  The tradeoff is that the staff needs to keep everything neat and tidy, but perhaps that’s not always a detriment.
  8. Use color.  Color is free!  The colorful walls in the Left Hand Animal Hospital enliven the space and make it a more enjoyable place to work.  In addition to having an energizing effect, colorful walls show less wear than white walls. 
  9. Buy inexpensive furnishings and décor.  The doctors purchased their furnishings and the playful leash hooks from IKEA.  They’re inexpensive and durable.  The message board in the lobby is chalkboard paint.  It’s personal, can be periodically updated by staff, and it costs a fraction of what a custom sign or digital display would cost.
  10. Use prefabricated items.  Prefabricated items, such as dental tub tables, are usually less expensive than custom made items.  Prefabricated items, such as loose animal caging, are also easy to relocate and move.

There is a lot to appreciate in Left Hand Animal Hospital’s cost-effective design, including a few splurges made for the sake of durability.  For example, the counters in the medical area are constructed of hard-wearing stainless steel.  Overall, the friendly feel of the hospital reflects the personable approach of this practice.  This is a special place for every client and for the staff. 

We hope that Drs. Thomas and Bureau have inspired you to plan your own affordable project!