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New veterinary project? 18 things you should never do


I usually don't do spays or neuters on my own pets, so you shouldn't consider designing your own hospital. Here are more veterinary design don'ts.

Maybe I’ve been around too long, because after umpteen years in the design business I’ve got a whole list of things you should never do when building or remodeling a veterinary hospital. Here are 18 of them.

You should never

1. Build or buy anything without a current and accurate survey locating existing buildings, property lines and any easements. If you don’t know the size and configuration of a parcel, absolutely, positively don’t buy it.

2. Buy any property or building without knowing definitely that it’s zoned to accommodate a veterinary hospital. Don’t take any realtor's word for it. Find out for yourself if the property you are buying is zoned correctly. Call your local planning or zoning board.

3. Start into any project without knowing how you are going to pay for it. It seems obvious, but if you can’t prove to yourself that you can pay for a project, then it is highly likely you can’t.

4. Start into any project without knowing what you’re going to do to get out of it. If you don’t know if you’re going to sell or rent your building—or practice—then don’t get into it in the first place.

5. Hire your wife, uncle, brother or best friend to be your contractor. Friends and family are nice to have, but hard to keep if you hire them. They are even harder to fire.

6. Borrow money from your best friend, family or a guy working in a pawnshop. Banks are the best place to borrow money—other places usually come with hidden costs.

7. Expand your building without knowing how you are going to expand your parking. In almost all cases, if you expand your building you will also need to expand your parking. It makes sense. It’s also the zoning law. Expect it.

8. Design your own hospital. I’m an architect and I usually don’t do spays or neuters on my own pets, so you should not even consider designing your own hospital. There are reasons why you’re a veterinarian and not an architect—and why I’m an architect and not a veterinarian.

9. Consider a major remodel on a building without first having a structural engineer determine what’s holding it up. It’s not always easy for a lay person to spot what is wrong with an existing building. Yes, cracks in the walls are a good indicator, but do yourself a favor and have someone capable look at any building you are going to buy before you buy it.

10. Do a major renovation of a building in California, Washington or Hawaii without knowing what needs to be done about seismic design. These three states, and parts of Missouri, have very strict seismic design criteria for new or renovated construction. Most older buildings in these states will not meet code. It costs money to fix this problem … and lots of it, so be careful.

11. Build in a wetland. If you see standing water, bull rushes or cattails, chances are that piece of ground is a wetland and you can’t build there. Even if the land looks dry, if you see wetland-type plants, it still counts as “wet.”

12. Build in a flood plain. If you’re building beside a creek, check with your local building department. Often a creek comes with a flood plain and you may not be able to build there!

13. Build on a vacant lot if you see old tires, oil cans or refrigerators sticking out of the dirt. It’s not very scientific, but if you see odd things sticking up through the dirt, it probably means the dirt you’re building on has been dumped on. And if it is fill, you have to remove all of it and start again—and that costs money.

14. Buy any building older than the 1980s without a Hazmat or asbestos study. Asbestos comes in many forms including floor tile, building and pipe insulation and siding. It’s rarely very dangerous, but it’s horrendous to get rid of, and that translates into lots of money. Even if you know absolutely, positively, no questions, no doubts that you don’t have asbestos, do the Hazmat survey anyway. It’s worth the money to sleep at night.

15. Buy a building if you see black mold growing. If you ever see black furry stuff growing out of a wall, crawl space or a ceiling, do yourself a favor and run. While black mold is not as dangerous as asbestos, it’ll will still burn you financially.

16. Partner with anyone you don’t know or don’t like on a fundamental level. We have a saying here in the office: Never get in bed with somebody you don’t know. So far it’s been a pretty good rule to live by.

17. Hire somebody you don’t like. On occasion we meet clients who are having a horrible experience with an architect they hired for their project. When you talk with them you find out that they never liked the person in the first place. Here’s a simple hint: If you don’t like somebody, don’t hire him or her. It rarely gets better as you start working together.

18. Hire someone who’s going to save you “a ton of money.” There are very few free lunches in this world. If some deal is just too good to be true, then it probably is.

Hope this lists helps you with your new project. Remember: The best knowledge you can gain is learning from other’s mistakes instead of making your own.

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