It’s not unusual for Lela Chaffin, hospital administrator at Companion Animal Care Center in Winona, Minn., to find clients and business associates sipping coffee in the reception area and warming themselves by the fire even on days they don’t have appointments. Or long after an appointment ends. The practice, a 2010 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award winner, reflects the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere that Dr. Kenneth Chaffin and his wife envisioned for their first building project.
Gathering inspiration from a Caribou Coffee shop, Dr. Chaffin dreamed of one day opening a veterinary practice that made clients feel like they were visiting a friend’s home. And that’s what he’s gotten. Wood and stone elements paired with indirect lighting and high, vaulted ceilings and a warm fireplace invite clients to escape the cold Minnesota winters and relax during short waits.
The Hospital Design Competition judges applaud the practice for its great colors throughout, nice wood ceiling, and high-quality interior finishes. The owners appreciate the praise. But they enjoy having a space that clients and patients love even more.
A place to call home
After renting for 14 years, the Chaffins had more than outgrown their 1,800-square-foot facility. With only one exam room and two full-time doctors, space was tight, to say the least. “We practiced good medicine, but we really needed dedicated rooms for procedures and a more updated look,” says Dr. Chaffin. “We even had a lady ask, very nicely, if we could actually do sterile surgery in our old facility! The look of the facility didn’t match our medicine.”
So Dr. Chaffin started looking for land on which to build, to no avail. In a city limited by bluffs on three sides and the Mississippi River on the fourth, space to build was limited, and what there was came at a premium. At the time, land where they wanted to build fetched about $17 per square foot.
One day a client asked Dr. Chaffin whether he’d found land yet. Dr. Chaffin said no, and the client replied that he wanted to sell some land to help the practice get started—for $6 a square foot. “This whole process has been a faith journey for us,” says Dr. Chaffin. “I prayed every step of the way that God would open doors if this was meant to be. And he definitely opened a door for us that day.”
Making room for what matters
After 14 years in a tiny one-exam-room facility, Dr. Chaffin had strong ideas about what he wanted in a practice. The first thing on his and Mrs. Chaffin’s list: a dedicated consultation and euthanasia area with a separate exit. “It may sound goofy to have that top our list, but we had wanted it for years,” Dr. Chaffin says.
Other high-priority features included a green space for dogs to exercise, an open floor plan with lots of natural light, a great staff lounge, and a fun boarding area. “Adding a nice boarding facility helps us build a niche for ourselves in this town,” says Dr. Chaffin. “Our dog and cat have always been like kids to us, and we wanted a nice boarding facility that would feel like taking the pets to Grandma’s house.”
Boarding clients enter through the main entrance then are funneled off to the boarding side of the facility. The Chaffins carried the warm, fun colors throughout the boarding area, making the place comforting and cozy. Even the fronts of the cat condos were color-matched to the rest of the practice. The Chaffins also dedicated a fair amount of space for doctors’ offices. “This was important for us,” says Mrs. Chaffin. “The space encourages good communication between the doctors and has been a real positive for our practice.”
Brush up on basics
Dr. and Mrs. Chaffin give credit to their extensive research for making the building process go relatively smoothly. They attended the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference before even purchasing the property. “We soaked up everything we could, and it helped us tremendously,” says Mrs. Chaffin.
Dr. Chaffin also attended the Minnesota VMA meeting at which he met a design-build contractor. The two hit it off immediately, and Dr. Chaffin says the firm’s help overseeing the project was a lifesaver. “I was still able to practice, Lela was still able to do her work, and the practice got built,” he says. “They broke the project into three phases, helped us project our growth, and made it all seem feasible. Having a great team around us made all the difference in the process.”
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