Big dreams in a small space


It's not smoke and mirrors, but glass and an efficient floor plan that make Animal Health Center at Weston, a 2,600-square-foot practice, seem larger than life.

When clients visit Animal Health Center at Weston in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., no room is off limits. And to emphasize that philosophy, only clear glass doors separate the client, treatment, surgery, and kennel areas. "We're proud of our facility and we find that clients really appreciate the open atmosphere," says owner Dr. Miguel Cordova. "The clear glass doors give visual access to our backstage activities and reinforce clients' perception of the high-quality medicine and care we provide. In fact, we're so proud of our facility that we give all of our first-time clients a tour."

The use of glass in different rooms makes the practice seem larger and more open, too. Which is a good thing, considering the practice measures only 2,600 square feet. And Dr. Cordova obviously employed these treatments well. His hospital was chosen as the Best Small Hospital in the 2004 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition, a category open to hospitals that measure 3,500 square feet or smaller.

Paving the way

Dr. Cordova, a 1992 graduate of Louisiana State University, put in 10 years as an associate at various practices. And he'd hoped to buy into a practice someday. But fortunately, the deal he had been negotiating fell through, forcing Dr. Cordova to take the opportunity to break out on his own. "For a few years my wife and I were contemplating opening a practice," says Dr. Cordova. "This seemed like the right time to break out, so with her encouragement, I started looking for a location in a developing city nearby."

The hospital occupies half of this 5,200-square-foot Spanish-style building. City regulations limit signage to the front wall of the building. No logos or outside signs are allowed. The building faces the main street for high visibility.

While continuing to work as an associate, Dr. Cordova met with his architect, Manny Gutierrez, and set the ball in motion. In a city with few good commercial sites available and no land open for a freestanding building, he eventually found space at the Weston Medical and Professional Campus, a complex of 17 buildings owned by or subleased to non-retail tenants. Dr. Cordova bought two bays near the entrance to the complex with visibility from the main street.

Six months later, he told his employers he was leaving, and three months after that he was in his own building. "My employers took the news fairly well," says Dr. Cordova. "I think they understood that I had to look out for my future and for my family, and they saw this as a good step for me."

Dr. Cordova purposely chose white cabinets in the lab and throughout. "I wanted any spot of dirt to show and be cleaned immediately," he says.

Dr. Cordova considered his experiences in previous facilities when deciding what to include in his new practice. So putting noise and odor control at the top of the list was a no-brainer. One strategy: Dr. Cordova and his architect formulated a plan that put at least three doors between the reception area and the dog ward at the back of the building. Good ventilation, with fans in the kennel, isolation, cat boarding, developer, staff lounge, and exam rooms, helps exhaust odors.

He also used double-rock walls with double insulation to minimize noise, and he chose acoustic ceiling tiles for noise absorption. And the rubber door sweeps installed under all the doors help seal rooms from exterior noise. His efforts paid off. "I really notice a difference," says Dr. Cordova. "Clients mention that our practice doesn't smell like an animal hospital. And they even joke about their own doctors' offices not being as clean, quiet, and upscale as our office is."

Award-winning floor plan, Animal Health Center at Weston

Maximizing minimal space

To make the most of the space, Dr. Cordova and Gutierrez structured the floor plan around the two existing entryways, using one for entry and the other as an exit. "We designed the reception area with separate admission and discharge stations to avoid crowding pets and clients at a single station," he says. Clients and patients move counterclockwise around a centrally located reception area, keeping traffic flow smooth and congestion low.

They also used glass doors and windows to keep team members in visual contact at all times and to make the space feel larger. The surgical suite is in full view from the treatment stations, housed in an 8-foot-tall wall-to-wall glass enclosure with a store-front glass door. An all-glass pass-through surgical cabinet was built into the glass wall to keep uniformity and avoid obstructing the view. Windows in all other practice doors help maintain the open look.

One of the factors that helped Dr. Cordova and Gutierrez make a success of this design was the clear and frequent communication at the beginning. "I had a good idea of what my ideal hospital would be like and the services and equipment I wanted to bring in," he says. "After several meetings the architect understood my vision."

Dr. Cordova's advice: get fully involved in all aspects of the project, and budget enough time for construction delays. "We had projected to be open for business by the beginning of November, but we found ourselves interviewing staff candidates in the middle of a construction site," he says. And they had to rush the installation of cabinets and countertops the day before the nine-station computer network was scheduled to be installed. At the same time, the air conditioning units weren't even up and running.

"The building process was hectic," says Dr. Cordova, "but at the end, everything fell into place. After months of planning, designing, and construction, the facility has surpassed our expectations. I have my dream hospital."

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