Building or renovating your veterinary clinic? Before you begin the journey, consider feedback from veterinarians at the other end of the spectrum—and the teams who helped them get there. By Gillian O’Meagher
Meet the clients
Dr Nigel Thomas engaged Elite Fitout to redevelop and expand Park Ridge Veterinary Hospital in Queensland, while continuing to operate through the construction and refurbishing process.
Dr Paul May chose Crosshatch Studio to design and project manage the construction of Wallan Vet & 24 Hour Hospital in Victoria, after outgrowing the previous clinic location.
1. A good relationship with your team
Elite Fitout managing director Rod Phillips tells clients to take the time to understand what they’re getting. Place the concept plan on the kitchen table for a week or so before giving final approval, to give yourself some thinking time.
“It’s easy to have a quick look at something and say, ‘Oh, that looks okay’ but then two days later you’re doing an activity and you think, ‘If I’m doing this in my new layout, and I turn to my right, is the shelf that I want there?”
Mark Allan, Crosshatch Studio’s co-founder with Jaime Diaz-Berrio, says part of the success of the Wallan project was a mutual respect as professionals, and a mutual level of trust between Crosshatch and Dr May. He says that by the end of any project, success is relative to the team.
2. The waiting game
Ready to leap into it? Permits and plan approvals can take six to 12 months—or more. “It was a long process where it was put on the backburner for 12 months because council wasn’t going to allow it,” says Dr Thomas. “That was the most frustrating part—the process and cost of council approval.” He emphasises it was worth the perseverance, but was not easy or straightforward.
Dr May describes the process as taking an exceptionally long time. “I think it was 270 days for us to get our permits through, and that was permits with zero objections.”
3. Don’t shy from a second opinion
If the plan you have doesn’t really fit your needs or budget, consider another expert’s input. Dr Thomas came to Rod Phillips with a clinic someone designed that was not only too expensive, but also abandoned the original building. “I said if we could use the old build and extend it, would that interest you, as well as being close to your budget? He said yes, and that’s ultimately what happened.”
4. Consider the visual aesthetic
Look at fusing functionality, and the visible. Keeping in mind the residential nature of the Wallan site, Crosshatch created a design specific to the location, and respectful of the area. “The big thing was the hospital was always going to be this 24-hour open facility, so you had to design a building that was not only going to look good during the day but that would also be approachable from the night,” Allan says. The spacing of the timber facade glows up the building at night, but then creates a solidity during the day.
“The hospital was always going to be this 24-hour open facility, so you had to design a building that was not only going to look good during the day but that would also be approachable from the night.”—Mark Allan, co-founder, Crosshatch Studio
5. Listen, trust and let go
Once the planning is done, you should be able to focus on your practice knowing the building or refurbishment is in good hands. Dr May says there were zero changes to the design or fitout to the clinic once construction commenced due to rigorous prepping, from looking at samples to 3D walk-throughs. “All that planning meant that I could then step back and continue to do my work while Crosshatch did the actual implementation.”
6. Prepping is imperative
From the weather to finances, uncontrollable elements may come into play. Avoid reacting in a way that transforms a relatively simple process into a stressful one. With regards to what you can control: plan. That’s the advice from Dr Thomas, especially if renovating, as you want to trade through the period as much as you can. “You need to limit that downtime and the impact it has on your business, so its important to make sure it’s well planned and organised.”
7. Maintain your clinic with planning
Ensure you and your project manager have organised a detailed way to work as efficiently as possible throughout construction and renovation. “You really have to plan your staging, so you always have operational areas to run your business without shutting down,” says Phillips. “With Park Ridge, we built the new space first because that gives more room, and then ideally we look at what can be put in or transferred to the new space to maintain the business while the original premises are being refurbished.
“You’ve got to be conscious of what space you need all the time, and make sure that the essential rooms are always available—i.e. build them in the new area and covert the old spaces when needed so the clinic can continue to function effectively.”
8. Adapting to the unexpected
For Dr May, phone lines proved a speed bump. It took close to three months for services to be installed and working properly, “purely down to issues of the transition of the area between Telstra and NBN at the time that the installation was meant to be happening.” He says there were a lot of communication issues between the two in regards to whose job it was to do certain bits of the work, including upgrading parts of the actual infrastructure.
The hospital team got through the frustrating period utilising diversions to mobiles, wi-fi doppler and special software. Conditions were still extremely limiting, but Dr May says in the end, people get used to it. “After a while you know it’s only for a period of time until things get better.”
9. Short-term fix vs long-term goal
The issue you address today may cost in the future if you don’t take into account potential renovations at the five- or 10-year mark. Elite Fitout’s Rod Phillips advises using foresight. A short-term fix might be your current focus, but does it also increase your operational ability, as well as work into long-term goals? Or are you creating issues for your practice in the years to come? He says drawing up the grand plan can be very beneficial. “So you know where you’re going to be in 15 years. We do a percentage of it now so it’s very easy to extend into it later.”
10. Focus on the end game
Having double the area to work in, Dr Thomas considers the build and renovation of Park Ridge Veterinary Hospital very rewarding. “It creates a happier workplace for your staff and a better workspace for clients and patients.”
Now with the ability to provide around-the-clock critical care at Wallan Vet & 24 Hour Hospital, Dr May says the space works brilliantly. “The staff absolutely love it; it’s very light and airy.”