Convert an existing building into a veterinary hospital

dvm360dvm360 January 2022
Volume 53
Issue 1

Cut costs and help protect the environment by repurposing an existing structure for your practice.

Old buildings are more likely to be considered inefficient or outdated than character-filled spaces with reimagined purpose—especially considering veterinary hospital standards. But things are not always how they appear, according to Daniel D. Chapel, AIA, NCARB, owner and president of Chapel Associates Architects in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Repurposing buildings holds more advantages than meet the eye,” Chapel said during a virtual Fetch dvm360® conference lecture.

Consider your surroundings. Maybe you’re a visionary who wants to restore older buildings, or the cost of building development sites is out of range, or you simply enjoy antique flair and want to work in an historical neighborhood. Older buildings often outlive their initial purpose, whether it was formerly a restaurant, church, or bank. The point, Chapel said, is that these buildings contain key features when it comes to repurposing them for your practice.

Adaptive reuse

The adaptive reuse, or conversion process, can be defined as repurposing an existing building. Chapel explained that repurposing a historic building may allow you to receive tax credits from your state’s historic preservation program. Another benefit is an established infrastructure. A building that already has existing connections to utilities, transportation, and community services can reduce your costs compared with building new construction.

Although many historic buildings do not require complete transformations to retain their usefulness, rehabilitation is a cost-competitive option compared with starting over.1 When comparing costs per square foot, a remodeled or renovated building may cost less than a new building of equal size. If you can work mostly within an existing structure, the time of construction may be substantially less.

Chapel noted that due to the economic chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many existing buildings suitable for reuse as veterinary facilities are now vacant and for sale or lease. He suggested considering these available buildings as an alternative to completely new construction as well.

From historic landmark to veterinary clinic

Practice owner and medical director of Valley Veterinary Hospital, Lindsay Shreiber, VMD purchased the historic 1734 Bull Tavern in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to preserve the landmark and repurpose it into a veterinary clinic. The tavern and former restaurant was originally designed to offer food and lodging to travelers during the American Revolution. Notable guests who visited the location, which is near the Valley Forge battlefield, include George Washington and British generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis, among others.

Shreiber’s dream came to fruition with the help of Tom Carnevale, RA, NCARB, LEED AP, cofounder of Carnevale Eustis Architects, also in Phoenixville. According to Carnevale, the former tavern had been renovated throughout its history, including changes made in the 1950s and 1970s.

“The decision was made to save and preserve the original 1734 structure, which was converted into the main offices and staff area. Some of the 1950s and 1970s renovations were demolished because of poor construction and instead repurposed for some of the veterinarian exam rooms,” Carnevale said.

The building’s façade was restored to its original stonework, with layers of painted stucco removed in the process.1 Windows were replaced with historically accurate wood and shutters.2 Meanwhile, a substantial new addition was built for grooming, dog day care, and boarding, Carnevale said. Spaces were created for training classes, physical therapy, and rehabilitation services, as well as acupuncture and aqua therapy.1

The facility opened in April 2019.1 According to Carnevale, Valley Veterinary Hospital is a true landmark for Phoenixville. “The 1734 structure has some very significant history to it…[and] the business practice has thrived since locating to this facility,” Carnevale said.

Save green while going green

Although there is a belief that old buildings are not energy efficient, the average building constructed prior to 1920 is more energy efficient than one built from 1920 to 2000.3

If you support recycling and conserving materials to promote a more stabilized ecosystem, then converting an older building may appeal to you. The existing infrastructure often can be reused, lowering the costs of installing utilities. This plays into the idea of having a minimum impact on the environment. By utilizing a ready-made space, your site costs are lower, and you are not developing new buildings in untouched green or open space.

“Everybody talks about going green and saving plastic bottles and so forth,” Chapel said. “Well, think how fantastic it is to save a whole building. Think of how much money, resources, and time went into making the building materials that you find.”

Not so fast…

Before you make the decision to convert and before you purchase a site, Chapel recommended considering these factors:

  • Zoning: Municipal zoning ordinances can be restrictive in established locations. Contesting or altering zoning can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • Parking: The number of existing parking spaces or room on the site for new parking spaces may be insufficient.
  • Structural condition: A building in poor structural condition most likely cannot be repurposed; the repair cost is usually prohibitive.
  • Existing building materials: Existing building materials or finishes may not be attractive, up-to-date, or appropriate for a veterinary hospital, and existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems may be substandard or insufficient for a modern animal facility.
  • Dangerous building materials: Many older buildings were constructed with hazardous materials (eg, asbestos, lead, heavy metals). Removal or remediation of these materials can be expensive.
  • ADA requirements: Meeting current Americans with Disabilities Act requirements may be too restrictive or costly.
  • Historic buildings: Restrictions to modifying buildings with historic designations or buildings located within special protected historic districts can be a significant design and cost factor. However, Chapel said, “if the building is truly historic and eligible, there are several tax credits or grants that may help offset any rehabilitation costs.”

Take-home points

Chapel reiterated that building reuse projects are innately green and recognize the embodied energy within existing structures rather than using building materials. “Existing infrastructure is reutilized, and the cost to municipalities is generally less,” he noted. He added that these projects have a limited impact on the environment while simultaneously lowering site costs by not requiring the development of an untouched green or open space.


  1. Dr. Schreiber and his staff are proud to announce the new Valley Veterinary Hospital. Valley Veterinary Hospital. Accessed December 7, 2021. https:// view-our-building-progress/
  2. Case studies: Valley Veterinary Hospital. Carnevale Eustis Architects Inc. Accessed December 7, 2021. https://cearchitects. com/valley-veterinary-hospital-commercial-design.php
  3. MacAskill J. Historic preservation & environmental conservation. Save Our Heritage Organization. 2009. Accessed December 3, 2021.
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