Designing for dentistry
By Carolyn Chapman, special assignments editor
Most practitioners endure a building project as a means to an end. Not Dr. Jan Bellows, owner of Hometown Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic in Weston, Fla. He thrived on the challenge of crafting the perfect facility for his dental specialty and general practice.
The project became the second AAHA-certified specialty dental practice in the country, and judges of Veterinary Economics' 2001 Hospital Design Competition presented the facility with a Merit Award, praising the clinic's beautiful exterior and landscaping. "The plan is compact and offers well-designed spaces," said one judge. "I love the beautiful coffee bar and wainscoting in the reception area," praised another judge.
Before he started the new practice, Dr. Bellows owned Pet Healthcare Center, 13 miles away in Pembroke Pines. "I was perfectly content," the 1975 Auburn University graduate declares. The 23-year-old, 1,800-square-foot shopping center location didn't turn heads, but it wasn't too bad, he says.
However, his wife Allison, who often works in the business office, thought the facility left something to be desired, and she prompted him to dream bigger. He started by looking for suitable sites in his tropical community and quickly focused on a new, 14-unit professional development a mile away from his home. But the developer balked at selling space to a veterinary hospital.
Finally, Dr. Bellows hired an attorney, who paved the way for him to buy half of one of the buildings. To finance the project, Dr. Bellows borrowed against his stock portfolio. He repays the loan at will with interest accumulating at 1.5 percent below prime floating.
Dr. Bellows' next step was to find design solutions that reflected his philosophy. "I want to care for pets whose owners accept medical and surgical suggestions, provide after care, and actively refer other pet owners," he says. "I created this office to cater to these 'A' clients."
Board certified in dentistry for 11 years, Dr. Bellows also wanted to continue offering hands-on dental wet labs at least four times a year on such techniques as intraoral radiology, endodontics, and periodontal and oral surgery. He wanted the new clinic to include windows in his office and the dental treatment area, with kennels far from the reception area and nearby businesses to minimize noise.
To reach these goals in the existing 2,500-square-foot facility, Dr. Bellows pored over Veterinary Economics' Portfolio of Award-Winning Floor Plans as well as AAHA materials. Then he hired architect and contractor Manny Gutierrez in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to draw up plans.
For Gutierrez, who regularly designs medical offices, the biggest challenge was meeting all the criteria within the limited space of the existing building. "We literally started with a dirt floor, exterior walls, and a roof," Dr. Bellows says.
A welcoming environment
Outside, palm trees, sandy-colored columns, and a tile roof greet clients. The developer limits exterior signage to a small plaque, so Dr. Bellows works to boost community awareness with cable TV ads and a local newspaper column.
The developer intended each building to house four tenants, but Dr. Bellows purchased two bays to accommodate a large, open reception area and an odd arrangement of entry and exit doors. Dr. Bellows says that at first he thought reception looked oversized, but the spaciousness impresses pet owners. "It's nice that our clients don't feel crowded," he says.
The reception area houses a coffee and snack bar with a granite, curved countertop and a small retail area that offers dental products, food, and shampoo. Carefully tended plants add warmth to the area, and unique, locally crafted metal sculptures give a touch of whimsy. The area doubles as a training facility for Dr. Bellows' quarterly continuing-education sessions on dental topics.
He takes particular pride in the high-tech solutions he incorporated into the three exam rooms. For example, each exam room includes a computer for immediate record input. Hand sanitizers eliminate sinks. And, he says, digital ear scopes that display images instantly on the video monitor impress clients.
The veterinary team uses the treatment area for general cases as well as most dental procedures. Dental lights sit on each table and a radiograph machine rests between tables.
The wards, surgery, and doctor's office line the back of the practice, with cat condos and the dog ward accommodating limited boarders and hospitalized patients. A shopping-center door manufacturer made the all-glass run doors, and 5-foot-high runs allow for storage space above.
Throughout the facility, Dr. Bellows chose porcelain tile for the floors and three feet up the walls. "I'd used cheap linoleum and tile before, and wanted something that would last and smell great this time," he says. He skipped the epoxy grout, which hasn't created any problems.
Sponge-painted walls add a subtle texture throughout and always look clean. "But the green interior walls in the working areas of the hospital almost caused a divorce," Dr. Bellows jokes. His wife selected earth tones for most of the practice, but she left him on his own to choose a contrasting color. "The staff liked it, and now she's come around, too," he says.
To research materials, Dr. Bellows searched the Internet for such items as soundproofing and flooring, and he read everything he could find. He also toured hospitals that used the materials he was considering.
For others considering a building project, Dr. Bellows advises doing your homework and following up carefully. "No one cares as much about your building project as you do," he says. For example, Dr. Bellows caught mistakes early and saved money with daily walk-throughs. And he hired an independent air conditioning company to inspect the work before paying the installation bill, a step that uncovered 13 errors, including ducts that weren't connected.
In all, Dr. Bellows loves his new hospital. And fortunately, he found the area ripe for an animal hospital--an important issue because he gave up his established client base when he leased his former practice to a new doctor. "I agreed not to solicit general practice clients for one year, but was able to contact dental clients and receive dental referrals," he explains. Happily, business has boomed.
"This hospital is dedicated to educating clients about their pets' needs," he says. "The smooth traffic flow and clean environment impress clients, who are then receptive to our recommendations. I'm just awed that our plans and projections really work."
Carolyn Chapman, a former Veterinary Economics associate editor, is a freelance writer in Liberty, Mo.