How to love your hospital design contractor

How to love your hospital design contractor

Here are four ways to be really happy with the person overseeing the subcontractors and job-site workers who are building your dream veterinary hospital.
Feb 23, 2018

This could be you. I mean, maybe not those big glasses, but the loving the hospital design process thanks to a great working relationship with your contractor, YES. (’s one big difference between a disappointing veterinary hospital design project and an inspiring one? Sometimes it comes down to an amazing floor plan. Sometimes it comes down to incredible team participation and enthusiasm. And a lot of times it comes down to fantastic contractors—and a practice owner or manager who knows the best way to work with them.

Here are six ways I encourage veterinary practice owners and managers to manage the relationship with one of the most important people in the process: your contractor.


Find a perfect match—and don’t settle

Choose a contractor you like and trust rather than shopping for the lowest price. Ask for recommendations, ideally from other veterinarians, then interview a few select contractors to make this choice. Here are qualifications to look for:

> Experience with veterinary hospital design

> A good attitude. Is the company interested in the project? Do they call you back?

> The right size. It’s often not a good idea to choose a one-man band or a huge “orchestra.” You want a contractor with a large enough firm to get good subcontractors—but not so large that your project gets delegated to the “B” team.

> The right project manager and superintendent. Be sure to meet the team members you’ll be working with.

Bring your contractor on board early during the design process to help you with budget estimating and to review the drawings for possible cost savings. If you’re not happy, switch to a new contractor before the construction project begins.

Know your roles

For the internal team, choose someone at the practice (sometimes an owner or co-owner, sometimes a practice manager) to be the construction liaison and to communicate with the design team and the construction team from start to finish. If that’s not you, make sure that he or she is given help for hours missed at the hospital and allow him or her to be in charge of simple, daily project decisions. Don’t fall prey to “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Remember that this chain of command exists on the job site, too. For the contracting team, bring your concerns to the project field superintendent and refrain from talking directly to sub-contractors. This allows your contractor to properly track decisions and changes.

It can be frustrating not to move in on time, but bad things happen when contractors are forced to rush the completion of a project.

Stop pushing

If your deadline for finishing your construction project isn’t an absolute deadline, then don’t sweat the delays. Yes, it can be frustrating not to move in on time, but bad things happen when contractors are forced to rush the completion of a project. In rush jobs, your general contractor will likely have way too many sub-contractors on the job site when the most critical finishes and systems are being installed. That leads to mess-ups. For better results, accept some minor schedule hiccups and allow the job to wrap up at a reasonable pace.

Only sweat the small stuff when it’s really, really important

Even for us architects, construction has its boring moments. At the beginning of a job, it can feel like dirt’s just being moved around aimlessly for a long time. Here’s a short list of important moments for your project:

> Drains. When the drains are installed but the concrete hasn’t yet been poured, watch for missing or poorly located drains.

> Electrical. When the walls are framed and power is installed, but the drywall isn’t up, verify that your power is in the right place.

> Flooring. Right before flooring is installed, review the mockup to be sure you’re going to like your flooring before your contractor installs acres of it.

As the owner, you’ll be cursed by the sight and memory of every little problem that occurred during construction. Naturally, it’s easy to focus on the aspects of your project you wish you could change, but chances are, no one else notices these things. If you planned well, hired well and executed well, you’ll come out of this happy with your practice team, your contractor and your hospital.

Heather Lewis, AIA, NCARB, is a regular speaker at the HospitalDesign360 conference as well as partner at Animal Arts, an architecture firm in Boulder, Colorado. She's a lighting geek and a (seriously) devoted advocate of minimizing pets' stress and anxiety. during their veterinary visits. She has designed practices and shelters that range in size from 1,200 square feet to 110,000 square feet. During grad school (as a break from “architorture”) she trained miniature horses to pull carts.