Years ago, Dr. Randy Aronson faced health problems that would have required back and neck surgery. He didn’t relish the idea of going under the knife, so he started looking at alternatives. After successful treatment with Eastern medicine techniques, the light bulb flashed. “Why am I not offering this kind of care to my patients?” he wondered. Soon after, Dr. Aronson began training in acupuncture and rehabilitation techniques. Combined with an already thriving high-tech veterinary practice, this focus on integrative medicine gave Dr. Aronson and his wife, co-owner Dr. Geren Thurston, an edge.
Fast-forward three years: P.A.W.S. Integrative Veterinary Center was born. Drs. Aronson and Thurston, after many setbacks and ever-increasing costs, built the perfect facility to complement their medical skills. And they won a 2011 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award in the process.
While the end result is a practice that exudes serenity and relaxation, the planning process was anything but calm. The doctors’ initial plan called for expanding and renovating their building. But six months into the process, they learned that their building was fraught with expensive problems. It suffered from split-level elevations, insufficient parking, and faulty power and water connections. The practice owners decided to raze the building and start fresh.
But the nightmares continued. The practice owners soon learned they would have to demolish the existing antiquated septic system and connect to the nearest sewer line, which was more than 200 feet away. They were told they had to apply for a property easement, a zoning variance, and special permission to trench through a neighborhood to make the new connection. Then came the task of bringing a significantly more advanced electrical system to the site—yet another difficult and costly setback.
“It was pretty earth-shattering at the time,” Dr. Aronson says. “We felt like the gods were against us for a while. There were a number of times that lesser people would have said, ‘Forget this!’” But Drs. Aronson and Thurston were determined to get the practice built, no matter what. They knew peace was right around the corner waiting for them.
Photos by Blake Hines and Ronn Spencer
FINDING THE MAGIC BLEND
Like the perfect cup of coffee, P.A.W.S. had to find the perfect blend of high-tech and feng shui in the design. “Our goal was to use natural products that fit into our desert surroundings,” Dr. Aronson says. He and his wife chose adobe, glass, rusted metal, and wood materials for much of the practice. They chose concrete floors with color to suit the natural look, too.
“We wanted the place to feel like home, not a veterinary hospital,” Dr. Aronson says. “In blending our medical styles, we wanted an open and airy floor plan with great views of the outdoors to relax our clients and patients.”
The reception area features two separate spaces that the doctors dubbed the “introvert” and “extrovert” areas. They’re designed for pets that are shy and those that are more outgoing. An enclosed porch with a koi pond highlights the more social of the two waiting areas, giving clients and patients direct access to the outdoors.
“The water from the koi pond flows toward the building in a feng shui way,” Dr. Aronson says.
Next to the waiting area is the comfort room, which also offers access to this outdoor area. During Dr. Aronson’s one-hour rehabilitation and integrative medicine consultations, he talks with pet owners in this outside area on cushy sofas and chairs with no exam table or benches.
“The homelike atmosphere seems to really make the animals calmer,” Dr. Aronson says. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how well most of them reacted. I had hoped the hospital’s design would do the trick, and I’m pleased to see that it has.”
BALANCING THE BUDGET
The original building plan—back when the doctors wanted to renovate and expand the existing facility—was slated to cost $800,000. All told, the building alone cost $1.5 million. “The new practice was a labor of love, with increasing costs,” Dr. Aronson says. But that didn’t stop him and Dr. Thurston from cutting costs where they could without sacrificing their style. The builder “value-engineered” the project to make it work, Dr. Aronson says.
For example, where the original plan called for adobe veneer on 90 percent of the walls, the new plan used the veneer on 45 percent of the walls. And where the blueprints called for a costly (and not very weather-appropriate) all-glass atrium, the builder reworked the plan to install a large skylight instead, effectively cutting costs and Arizona heat.
The final result is more than Drs. Aronson and Thurston had imagined, despite the high costs and myriad issues. Constant compliments, calmer patients, and relaxed clients and staff members prove that the design was worth the effort. “You know when vendors ask to give their colleagues and prospective clients tours through your facility that you’ve done something right,” says Dr. Aronson. The doctors, who built the practice in the height of the recession, say business is growing steadily, and they’re thrilled with the results.
P.A.W.S. Integrative Veterinary Center
300 E. River Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85704
Owners: Drs. Randy Aronson and Geren Thurston
Associates: 1 full time, 1 part time
Hospital team: 10 full time, 2 part time
Practice type: Small animal
Building size: 6,269 square feet
Runs: 6 hospital indoor, 1 hospital outdoor
Exam rooms: 5
Parking spaces: 21 client, 12 staff
Construction: $1.5 million (building only; excludes land purchase, landscaping, parking lot, etc.)
Land purchase: $675,000
Site improvement: $199,149
Professional fees: $250,000
Year built: 2008
Paul Weiner, Design Build Collaborative Inc.
315 S. Convent
Tucson, AZ 85701
Fancy finish: A copper countertop, slate tile accents, and a wood-beamed ceiling continue the warm, natural style in the reception area. Clients can sit outside in the shaded patio and garden, or indoors near the coffee and tea bar.
Welcoming exam rooms: The exam rooms offer drop-down laminate tables, flexible seating, stone walls, and poured colored concrete floors. Natural light continues the warm, welcoming feel.
Medicine for all: With high-tech equipment, a cloverleaf configuration of wet and dry work tables, and an ICU oxygen chamber, the treatment area features stations for both Eastern and Western medicine.
Work with a view: The microscopy area gives team members a view of the nearby mountains and desert landscape.