Stretching a budget and space
When Dr. Michelle Messner first met her architect, she joked that she wanted to construct a facility that would win the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition. “Under pressure, my architect created a plan so beautiful I just had to build it,” says Dr. Messner, owner of Creekside Animal Clinic in Norton, Ohio. And as luck would have it, the hospital did win a 2010 Merit Award—and gave Dr. Messner a more functional, client-friendly facility.
More than a dream
Though her wish to win a Hospital Design award came true, it took more than wishful thinking to bring this project to life. Dr. Messner took her job seriously, putting tons of research into play. She pored over books of hospital floor plans, Veterinary Economics magazine, and dvm360.com, and she attended numerous hospital design conferences.
“I read in Veterinary Economics that you shouldn’t move a practice further than two miles from your existing location,” Dr. Messner says. “It took some work, but we found a great piece of property only 1.3 miles east on the same road with better exposure on a main thoroughfare. At just over six acres, it’s more space than we need, but it gives us room for future expansion.”
And Dr. Messner did need that room to grow. She had outgrown the facility she’d owned since 1994. As a central hospital-affiliated practice, she sends patients to the nearby Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital for radiography, surgery, and hospitalization. She and eight other practices share services with Metro, giving her more space on-site for outpatient services, including six large exam rooms, a central treatment room, a food storage room, a kitchen and break room for staff members, a server room and pharmacy, and more. “Not needing radiology, surgery, and other inpatient services changed the way we built,” she says. “I have plenty of room for everything I need.”
Feeling the pinch
While designing the perfect practice came easily, financing did not. The bank’s appraisal of her architectural drawings came in low because the building was compared with office buildings and strip malls—buildings that are vastly different from a veterinary clinic. This forced Dr. Messner to get creative and do some serious financial strategizing, particularly in a struggling economy.
“We had to do some ‘value engineering’ on the plans and remove some of the bells and whistles to make ends meet,” she says. For example, she initially removed the whole clinic generator that she intended to use to power a paperless practice with 18 computer stations. But after learning during inspection that she didn’t have emergency lighting, she had to add the generator after all—using a $30,000 personal loan.
Dr. Messner also made the decision to put the high-end features up front and more utilitarian materials in the back. For example, decorative stonework and enormous windows adorn the waiting area—though there are hints of natural light throughout the clinic.
Like the ones you’re with
While no building process goes perfectly, Dr. Messner has few complaints. Much of that is due to her thorough research—and decision to hire capable, comfortable project managers. “The most important thing for me was to make sure I liked the architect and contractors,” she says.
Dr. Messner met her architect through her husband and spent a fair amount of time interviewing her. “I knew I could hire a veterinary architect from out of state, but I really wanted someone I could work closely with—literally and figuratively,” she says. “I had to be comfortable with her for this to work. And she designed a building I was comfortable paying for and helped me make an easy transition from the old building to the new.”
The only regret Dr. Messner has is that she didn’t build what she calls a “marshalling room”—a place to stack boxes and put trash out of sight before having it hauled away from the practice. “Otherwise, I have everything I need in this practice and then some,” she says. “It was a relatively quick process, from start to finish, and I’m happy with the result.”