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Know what you want-be ready to fight for your new veterinary practice
After eight years, large sums of money, and more patience than he thought possible, Dr. Jeff Walcoff of Bennett Creek Animal Hospital in Clarksburg, Md., finally made his dream hospital a reality.
All he wanted was a practice closer to home to call his own. After eight years practicing in a multi-level professional facility, the idea of more space, some specialized equipment, and a floor plan designed to his specifications appealed to Dr. Jeff Walcoff. But this Clarksburg, Md., veterinarian never imagined it would take another eight years to make his dream a reality.
Now he not only practices in a spacious, well-designed facility, but he can boast about his practice’s 2012 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit award. The competition judges praised Bennett Creek Animal Hospital for its curb appeal, attention to detail, color choices, and spacious exam rooms.
Dr. Walcoff loves those details as well and deems his efforts worthwhile. But he cautions his veterinary colleagues who are contemplating building: Be prepared to spend a lot more time and significantly more money than you ever imagined. Here’s his story.
Photos by Dr. Jeff Walcoff
Surviving the struggles
After three years of ownership in Frederick, Md., Dr. Walcoff made plans to build a facility much closer to home. He purchased property adjacent to a new middle school and a church on a well-traveled road in a high-growth area that was slated for 15,000 new homes over the next few years. The spot seemed ideal. Unfortunately, all didn’t go as planned.
It took four years—four years!—to get a special exception to the residential zone, even with overwhelming support from the community.
“The only opposition we faced was from three activists from a nearby community who have made it their mission to try to prevent business development in this rapidly progressing area,” he says. Dr. Walcoff worked with multiple community ombudsmen during this time and relied on the outpouring of support from the neighboring homeowners, who were anxious to see the old dilapidated structure on the site torn down. Some even attended county zoning hearings to speak in support of Dr. Walcoff’s proposed hospital.
After unforeseen expenses paid to the engineers, lawyers, and architects, Dr. Walcoff finally developed a plan that he loved and that would gain the support of the county officials over the three voices of opposition. He scaled back the facility’s size, made it look more residential, and changed a few other details. “It was a stressful process for me and my family,” he says. “But I knew our community had a need for this service, and this is what I wanted, so I persevered. Thankfully, my wife was on board with this project and supported me through it all.”
Refining the details
The struggles didn’t end there. Installing a custom greenhouse in the rear of the facility to use as an outdoor exercise yard enclosure for boarded dogs became a bigger obstacle than anticipated with the county permitting department. Because of the size of the structure, the greenhouse was shipped from California, then assembled on site.
“I never guessed it would take so much just to get a stamp of approval from the county to erect this outdoor structure,” he says. “Then I decided to put AstroTurf in the exercise yard, so if it’s raining or snowing the pets can go there, with a built-in drainage system underneath.”
Little did he know when he implemented these additional features, the county would then require that he install a complete fire sprinkler system for the outdoor greenhouse.
“It really was silly what we went through—we had to change the front door window design three times,” Dr. Walcoff says. He credits his local architect for keeping him sane. (Visit dvm360.com/bennett to read more about their struggles and advice.)
Dr. Walcoff had planned to work at his previous facility until it was time to move to the new building. In 2008, he sold the old practice and was between jobs for more than two years, except for the emergency work he picked up here and there. “I didn’t plan it that way, but it ended up working out well for me,” he says. “I had more time to devote to my sons and the building project, once it got underway.”
Despite the difficulties, Dr. Walcoff had plenty of time to plan out the perfect practice. And it’s a good thing he finally got it right: He says “no way” to the idea of ever building again. He hopes one or both of his two sons might practice with him one day and make Bennett Creek Animal Hospital a legacy.
Bennett Creek Animal Hospital
22416 Frederick Road
Clarksburg, MD 20871
Owners: Jeff Walcoff, DVM, Sheila Walcoff, JD
Hospital team: 2 full time, 5 part time
Practice type: 98 percent small animal, 2 percent exotic
Runs: 23 boarding indoor
Building size: 6,888 square feet
Parking spaces: 17 total client and staff
Construction: $1.6 million (building only;
excludes land purchase, landscaping, parking lot, etc.)
Land purchase: $250,000
Site improvement: $456,900
Professional fees: $445,200
Year built: 2010
Architectural Concepts Group
3280 Urbana Pike, #101
Ijamsville, Md. 21754
Phone: (301) 831-8900
Fax: (301) 831-8978
Chapel Associates Architects
25 Rahling Circle, Suite B
Little Rock, AR 72223
Phone: (501) 821-6767
Fax: (501) 821-6769
The reception area features cool blue tones, reminiscent of a relaxing spa. Dr. Walcoff’s wife, Sheila, chose the blue glass-tiled reception desk. At first, Dr. Walcoff resisted; he said no other veterinary practice has this style. Her answer? “Exactly!” Now he loves the unique desk, with blue canned lights in the bulkhead and dog leash hooks on the desk.
The exam rooms feature granite countertops, monitors for digital radiography, and benches for seating. The wood on the benches goes to the floor so pets can’t hide underneath.
With two work areas and computers, staff members have plenty of space to update files in between exams in this extra-wide hallway. The pharmacy area is recessed into an alcove, making it a bit out of the way. However, Dr. Walcoff likes the set-up because it provides more storage space on the two sides. All the drugs are easily accessible.
The “greenhouse” exercise area is a favorite feature at Bennett Creek. An AstroTurf lawn with drainage underneath makes for easy cleanup, while a roof overhead makes the area ideal in bad weather.
Keeping with the spa-like colors, the kennel is tiled in cool blues and greens. The glass runs and tiled walls make for easier clean-up. Baffling panels on the ceiling help control noise, and a separate HVAC system keeps odors in check.