When she bought into the practice in 1997, Dr. Virginia Brown knew that she would eventually tear down the building and start fresh. The 36-year-old facility needed much more than a facelift. But Dr. Brown didn’t relish the idea of throwing her whole self into the daily details of a building project; instead she preferred to spend her time with the clients and patients she cared for. Hiring a design-build team to handle the details allowed Dr. Brown to do her job while Goose Creek Veterinary Clinic in Goose Creek, S.C., took shape.
The resulting 5,200-square-foot hospital wows clients. And judges of the 2011 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition took note as well, praising the practice for its well-designed exam rooms, high-quality building materials, and efficient layout. The best part? Dr. Brown got the facility she desperately wanted and needed—without the headaches that often accompany a building project.
MEETING A SERIOUS NEED
Building a new facility was much more than just a dream. It was a necessity for Dr. Brown. “The third time the roof fell in, I knew it was time,” she says. And she’s not joking. The roof of the original building would spring a leak every six months. Dr. Brown briefly considered renovating the existing facility, but she knew the faulty plumbing and wiring wouldn’t pass code, the air conditioning unit was on the fritz, and the whole building was out of date.
Other doctors’ and clients’ impressions of her practice also played into the decision to build. Dr. Brown found associates turning their noses up at the facility when she was hiring. “I knew that if they couldn’t get past the looks, then clients wouldn’t be able to either,” she says.
Rather than jumping into a building project, Dr. Brown waded in slowly. Very slowly. In fact, it took her nearly four years to choose her design team and bank. Then, once she had everything lined up, the economy fell in—just like that leaky roof of hers. “I take a long time to mull things over,” she says. “When the economy went down, I had to decide whether to go forward or pull out. I decided to just go for it, and I’m so glad that I did.”
THE PERFECT PLAN
Dr. Brown knew from the start that she wouldn’t handle the building project herself. She wanted to practice medicine to pay for the project, not put all her focus into the project herself. She hired a design-build team out of Minnesota to head up the project, and she recommends this route to other veterinarians. “I still had control over the project, and I met with the entire design team via phone every two weeks,” she says. “Otherwise I was free to practice. I could have been in their face all the time if I’d wanted to, but I never needed to be. I preferred to let them handle the nitty-gritty details.”
To start, the company sent two representatives to crunch numbers and draw up preliminary plans. Within two days, Dr. Brown had a good idea of what she could afford and what her new practice would look like. Dr. Brown took one trip to the company’s headquarters to pick out all the materials, and after two days she’d chosen cabinets, hardware, flooring, interior and exterior materials, and everything else the practice needed. “It was good that I wasn’t at the clinic looking at tiny samples,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to focus fully nor could I have been able to make decisions based on a few samples. It was intense, but I got nearly everything chosen right then.”
Dr. Brown initially wanted a two-story practice with an apartment on the second floor. She quickly learned that wasn’t in the budget, so she did the next best thing: designed a facility that looks like a two-story building. “The building was a fairly simple square shape, but I didn’t want it to look too squat or boring,” Dr. Brown says. “I liked the half-arch entryway that a nearby school had, so we copied that but made it taller to elongate the building.” She also turned the entrance away from the sun and at a different angle from the previous building, allowing for a more seamless future expansion.
The former facility, cramped at just under 2,300 square feet, didn’t easily hold all the equipment Dr. Brown needed to practice high-quality medicine. “We were always tripping over equipment or having to shove it out of the way when not in use,” she says. “And our building was so antiquated nobody knew we had high-tech equipment or practiced good medicine unless their animal was critically ill and we showed them the machines. I wanted the new practice to highlight our quality of medicine.”
To this end, Dr. Brown had a special procedures room designed with space for her dental machine and other equipment. To simplify matters, her design team representative accompanied her to veterinary shows at which she purchased equipment and cages to incorporate her decisions into the design. “Whether it gave them fits trying to make room for it all, I’ll never know,” she says. “I just told them I wanted it, and they made it happen.”
While Dr. Brown is glad she made the decision to delegate the building process, she says it still took involvement on her part as the practice owner. “I wanted someone to take care of this for me and reduce the headaches that come with building,” she says. “But I was still very involved in making sure I got the practice I wanted. It depends on your personality. You can be as involved as you want to be, and this worked out great for me.”
Goose Creek Veterinary Clinic
501 Redbank Road
Goose Creek, SC 29445
Owners: Dr. Virginia Brown
Associates: 1 full time, 1 part time
Hospital team: 8 full time, 1 part time
Practice type: Small animal and exotic
Building size: 5,200 square feet
Exam rooms: 6
Runs: 5 hospital indoor
Parking spaces: 22 client, 8 staff
Construction: $1.1 million (building only; excludes land purchase, landscaping, parking lot, etc.)
Land purchase: $350,000
Site improvement: $185,000
Professional fees: $221,000
Year built: 2010
TWC Scholar Architecture and Construction
1550 Willmar Ave. SE
Willmar, MN 56201
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Bright and friendly: The curved reception desk and overhang welcomes clients, as do the sunny yellow walls and word embellishments. Paw prints on the ceilings lead clients from the lobby to the exam rooms.
Nice and simple: Exam rooms in bright, cheery colors are kept simple with minimal furniture. Fold-down writing surfaces add convenience, as do touch screen computers and epoxy floors for easy cleaning.
Outstanding organization: The 535-square-foot treatment area is central to the exam rooms, doctor’s office, lab, and has a pass-through to the surgery suite. Dr. Brown also included space-saving drawers on both sides of the work tables, like she had seen at other practices.
Employee break room
Illumination: Natural light flows into the surgery room via an outer window.