Do you need a dose of reality?


Don't waste your energy trying to squeeze a 15,000-square-foot hospital onto a 3,000-square-foot lot. Instead, exercise flexible thinking, creative planning, and strategic cost controls to build your dream.

I interviewed a veterinarian a few months ago to learn how he envisioned his dream hospital. On the way back to the airport, as an afterthought, he said, "Do you want to see the site?" Great idea! When we got there, I said, "So which one of these buildings next door are you tearing down?"

Dan Chapel

You see, only half of the building the doctor described would fit on this site; we had to design a two-story building just to squeeze in the city-mandated parking spots.

Of course, as an architect, I earn a living assigning sizes and shapes to plans. But even with the training and experience I bring to a project, you have an advantage when it comes to predicting the size of your future practice. After all, you know the budget, and you have the list of elements you want. The problem: Most doctors don't match up their six-foot-long list of must-haves with the square footage they can afford.

Undoubtedly, you know best what elements you really must have in a practice—and the best architects will always work from your wish list. But sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Yes, I'm saying you may need to loosen your grip on a foot or so of your long list.

Can't face the cuts? Then you may want to postpone building so you can save some money or find additional financing. I'd rather see you do that than chop out an exam room or some other space that really affects the hospital's business and efficiency.

Another option: You could develop a phased project plan that lets you build in the basics now and expand later. You could leave part of the building unfinished or position it on the site so it's easy to add on. If you're leasing, reserve the option to take over the space next door.

Did you run out of money when you added in the equipment budget? Well, maybe you can find alternative payment options; remember, vendors want to work with you. Or, if you still can't afford a piece of equipment, you can leave a space and add the machine next year.

Or maybe it's the all-high-end finish materials that put things over the top. If you're making tough choices, you can certainly put off spending a few dollars here. Take flooring, for instance. Porcelain tile, one of the best flooring options, might break your bank. Bare, sealed concrete, on the other hand, is relatively inexpensive—and it's a great intermediate step to that porcelain floor you really want.

True, some of those extras might make your job easier and improve your level of service and care. It's up to you to weigh the cost and value of each feature. Look at it this way: If taking five things off your dream list gave you the money to build 1,000 more square feet, would you make the cuts? Just remember, you can always take away from your list or add on to it to achieve the hospital of your dreams.

Going back to that man with the small site—he was happy in the end. And it's all because he was flexible when I injected a healthy dose of reality into his dream.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dan Chapel, AIA, is owner of Chapel Associates Architects Inc. in Little Rock, Ark. Please send comments to

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