Designing on a dime

Designing on a dime

Jan 01, 2007

Dr. Jay harper never set out to be an emergency and critical-care veterinarian. Instead, chance events put him on a path that would change his career.

Dr. Harper, a 1998 graduate of Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, was working in a small-animal practice in Virginia when his roommate introduced him to the idea of emergency medicine. For a little extra money and experience, Dr. Harper pitched in at his roommate's practice on Friday nights and found that he really liked the medicine he practiced there. Then, when his roommate booked an interview at an emergency facility an hour away, Dr. Harper agreed to ride along. As fate would have it, his roommate wasn't interested in the job—but Dr. Harper was. And the practice owners were interested in him.

As a young grad with his heart set on small-animal general practice, Dr. Harper never would've guessed that just seven years later he and his wife, Rebecca, would build their own brand new emergency and critical-care facility—a facility that earned him a 2006 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award.

The right place at the right time

When Dr. Harper and Rebecca took over Animal Emergency & Critical Care of Lynchburg in Lynchburg, Va., in 2001, they vowed they would build a new facility when the five-year lease expired. But they didn't quite make it that long. A traveling ophthalmologist, while visiting the practice, pointed out that the time to move was probably sooner than they had thought—as evidenced by the stacks of boxes and equipment towering high overhead in the surgery suite.

"That's when we realized he was right; we had already outgrown our facility," says Dr. Harper. The 60-year-old converted insurance building didn't fit the bill any longer.

With a small budget—less than $1 million—the couple had a hard time finding real estate that suited them. Then Rebecca began attending real-estate auctions, and soon found out about a piece of property up for grabs that looked too good to be true. It was on a busy, well-lit road, easy to access, already zoned for veterinary use, and near many other 24-hour businesses, making it a perfect neighborhood for an after hours critical-care facility.

"Our bank approved us to bid up to $160,000 for the land," Dr. Harper says. "The day of the auction, four of us were bidding. And by a stroke of luck, we won the auction—for exactly $160,000, even though it was valued at $300,000. It didn't feel real that we'd just bought a piece of property. But we've always been good at taking opportunities as they come and this time was no different. That night, we knew we were meant to build this practice."

The culture of critical-care design

The Harpers didn't need to worry about boarding, grooming, dental suites, and many other aspects typical of a small-animal hospital because of the nature of their facility. However, their niche brought a different set of design issues. For example, Dr. Harper says they needed to include central surgical suction, central oxygen and other medical gases, and many electrical outlets. And the building needed to be gurney-friendly from front to back.