Get the best possible return on your project
By Sarah A. Moser
"Practice owners want to put their best foot forward, which makes the hospital foyer, reception area, and waiting area the most popular for remodel projects," says Dan Chapel, AIA, NCARB, owner of Chapel and Associates Architecture in Little Rock, Ark., and a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. "Luckily, those areas are the easiest projects to tackle."
And you don't necessarily need to spend a ton of money, says board member Mark Hafen, AIA, NCARB, a senior partner with Gates Hafen Cochrane Architects PC in Boulder, Colo. "The hard part is putting together a strong design plan so the final product meets your goals," he says.
Consider these tips to help you plan for a successful makeover project:
Consult your finances."Setting a budget is a critical first step," says Hafen. "Decide how big a project you can take on. And if you're talking about spending a significant amount, create a business plan or update your plan to see whether this is the right time to tackle the project."
Define your goals."Once you know what you want to achieve, list the steps you'll need to take to reach that goal," says Chapel. "With this approach, you may set several intermediate goals to finish your project. But the goal setting may be as simple as listing the things that are wrong in your hospital in order of importance. Then tackle the most critical problem first."
Don't forget to look outside. When creating your list of projects, it's important to remember what clients see first: the parking lot, doorway, landscaping, and practice sign. "Trimming the hedges around the practice sign, cutting the lawn, and sweeping the parking lot and sidewalks may do a lot to improve your hospital image," says board member Wayne Usiak, AIA, owner of Wayne Usiak and Associates/BDA Architecture in Albuquerque, N.M.
Chapel agrees that it's important to look at your practice the way a new client would. "Does the front door look attractive and inviting?" he asks. "Try to open your front door while you hold a cat carrier. Do you make it easy for a client to bring a pet and kids inside?"
Ask team members' opinions. "If you're going to remodel the reception area, it only makes sense to ask receptionists for their input," says Hafen. "Is there something that would make their jobs easier? Do they have ideas that would improve clients' experiences in the practice? Your team members spend more time in certain areas of the practice than you do, and they may see more problems-and solutions."
Do your homework. If you're planning to make structural changes, you're better off the more information you start with, Hafen warns. "Try to find the original building drawings," he suggests. "You don't want to make a silly but costly mistake, like taking out a load-bearing wall." Along the same line of thinking, if you plan to expand, you need to check into local zoning laws.
Prepare for the unexpected. Unexpected costs, that is. For example, it's easy to forget the associated costs of moving a wall. "If you move a wall, you need to consider the costs of moving plumbing, electrical wiring, and other items, too," Usiak says.
Also consider the impact the project could make on your business. Will your remodeling project force you to close? If so, for how long?
Take before photos. "Too often, people forget to take pictures until after they've stripped the wallpaper or knocked out a wall," says Chapel. "You'll want to see how far the practice has come, so don't forget to record the 'before' view for posterity."