Communication, on-site presence reduce project headaches
Katy, Texas- Dr. Darren Williams knows colleagues who have hit snags entrusting non-specialized architects with their clinic's construction. So when this small animal DVM resolved to build his dream hospital, he hired a well-known veterinary architect and vowed to leave noise, odor, ventilation and traffic flow to the expert.
Yet two years and $20,000 in legal fees later, Williams says he's besetwith debt following project delays and construction oversights. Inundatedby complaints from other dissatisfied clients, Williams' architect filedbankruptcy, abandoned his project and left the practitioner scrambling ashis loans started rolling in.
"I had an 8,000 square foot facility but no blueprints," Williamssays. "In the end, it was one associate architect after another workingon my hospital with no contact from the guy I hired."
After spending thousands repaying third-party contractors, the MaydeCreek Animal Health Center became operational - six months later than expected.
"There was no oversight of the construction, and these local guyshad no experience with veterinary projects," Williams says. "Theresulting cost overrun put us in financial holes that we're still tryingto climb out.
"I did my homework and tried to do everything right. I thought Iwas hiring the best, and in the end it was all a big disaster."
Williams is not alone. By far, the majority of veterinarians enjoy greatrelationships with their architects, veterinary specialized or otherwise.Lack of communication and onsight presence is usually how turmoil begins.
Like Williams, Dr. Paul Howard, of Colchester, Vt., researched his projectthoroughly.
"I took a hospital design course, narrowed my choice to three veterinaryarchitects, interviewed them and hired," he says. "The problemwas my architect lived across the country wasn't aware of Vermont's handicapaccessibility laws. In a nutshell, we could not come to an agreement onhow we would resolve the fact that my building would require an elevator.The blueprints had already been drawn."
Howard's case against his veterinary architect, seeking damages for negligenceand cost overrun, was appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, but in theend, the defendant won.
"I was very disappointed," Howard says. "As with any otherprofessional, it's very hard to prove negligence claims."
Some pre-project advice
To avoid legal and architectural nightmares, review plenty of referencesbefore hiring any architect, says Dr. Christopher Allen, a lawyer and regularDVM Newsmagazine contributor. "There's no background information youcan get better than satisfied customers," he says.
Developing a relationship with an attorney helps, too, especially concerningcontract reviews, he says.
"Don't sign anything without having it looked over by a lawyer,"Allen says. "There's a million places you can be cheated, so any constructionproject is a nightmare for someone new to this."
And while onsite inspectors drive project costs up 15 percent, they'reworth it, he adds.
"If you have problems down the road, you have a whole bunch of potentiallyliable people, any one of whom might be judgment proof," he says. "Youhave to identify a party you can get money from and you have to prove it.This means keeping an eye on their work.
"In every state I know, engineering and architecture are licensedprofessions. You have to prove malpractice."
That's advice Dr. Rick Beldegreen, of Katy, Texas, wishes he'd heardbefore problems with his veterinary architect cost him roughly $300,000in delays, legal fees and unseen costs.
While building his $1.2 million hospital, which snowballed into a $1.8million venture, Beldegreen discovered an architect's onsite presence would'vemade a huge difference.
"These nationally known architects make it sound like it's no bigdeal that they're 1,000 miles away, but that's a lie," he contends."My building had a laundry list of architectural errors.
"After it was all said and done, my hospital came out wonderfully,but the problems we encountered were so great if our builder hadn't caughtthem, I would've gone bankrupt. These architects don't have all the answers.Veterinarians must be the ones to find them."