Piecing together a seamless practice


Combining three pieces of land let the owners of Animal Clinic East achieve three design goals: to increase the number of exam rooms, develop a facility they could show off to clients, and build in comfortable workspaces for team members.

In the game of Monopoly, when a player owns all the property on a street, the value for that property increases considerably. Three practice owners in Walla Walla, Wash., played a similar game. They devised a plan, made some serious investments, and pieced together a beautiful new place to practice medicine.

Animal Clinic East

The real-life Monopoly game started when the owners bought a piece of property for a satellite clinic and later bought two neighboring lots to increase this growing small-animal clinic. They knew it would be challenging to make the initially jumbled property look like a bona fide veterinary hospital. But they jumped into the task of blending and beautifying. And their carefully-planned strategy paid off, eventually winning them a 2005 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award.

Go directly to start, and don't collect a dime

The team started conducting business in the 1,180-square-foot satellite clinic in 1991, with the main clinic five miles away serving mostly rural, large-animal clients. Within two years, the satellite clinic was bursting at the seams. "We were waving the white flag, saying we couldn't work in these tight quarters anymore," says co-owner Dr. Susan Fazzari. "We were stepping over animals recovering from anesthesia, and we could only hold about four people at a time in the treatment area. So in 1994, we started sketching ideas for an enlargement on napkins. When a house adjacent to the building came up for sale, we bought it and rented it out until we could donate the house to Habitat for Humanity and have it moved off the lot."

Then a commercial facility on the other side of the corner came up for sale. The owners bought and rented out this building, too. "At this point, we graduated to using notepaper for our designs instead of napkins," Dr. Fazzari jokes.

A 15-foot-tall ceiling and numerous windows give the reception area an airy atmosphere. Mission-style furniture and ceramic tile flooring make the area inviting and easy to clean.

Before hiring an architect, the owners had a good idea of what they wanted, says co-owner Dr. John Ladderud. "We spent time getting a good design down before moving ahead," he says. "We bought a design book from Veterinary Economics and put our ideas together. Our problem in a nutshell: too much business and not enough space."

Yet space wasn't all the doctors wanted. "We wanted a modern, high-quality facility that would satisfy new veterinarians who wanted to practice high-end medicine," says co-owner Dr. Phillip Kress. "We designed an answer to that need into every part of the clinic. Of course, there were some budget limits, but our plan ensured we had what it takes to run an upscale, modern clinic."

Some of those additions included wiring for an expansion of computer systems and audio-video needs; pre-wiring and oxygen drops for future surgical instrumentation; and careful use of modern, durable materials to help the clinic withstand the test of time.

In 2003, the newly remodeled satellite clinic was established on Isaacs Avenue. And while it's not exactly Boardwalk, this collection of property would prove a worthwhile investment.

Dr. John Ladderud's wife, Ruth, bought this mechanical horse—which she spotted in a storeroom at Sears Roebuck and Co.—for the reception area. Clients' children enjoy riding the horse, and the practice donates the money earned to the city library.

Property upgrades, pay $1 million

Of course, getting more workspace was the key motivation for taking on the project for the satellite clinic. "We desperately needed more exam rooms," says Dr. Fazzari. "We have twice as many now. Once we accomplished that, our aspirations for the facility went from desperation to looking toward the future. We promised ourselves we'd never build again after this, so we had to do it right."

That meant getting the traffic flow correct from the very beginning. "In the old facility, we had to wait for work space and get in line to move around," says Dr. Ladderud. "And we used to fight bottlenecks at the front desk." To avoid congestion and reduce reverse traffic, Animal Clinic East clients enter in one area and exit through another.

The generous reception area is surrounded by tall counters which drop to desk height at the admit and discharge stations, helping define traffic flow for clients.

Another trick to reduce bottlenecks: The architect included a hallway with access to animal housing areas in the back that bypasses treatment and pharmacy areas near the front. "We also tried to make our hallways useful," says Dr. Ladderud, "by building in direct access to the janitorial closets, bathing areas, animal housing, and the animal kitchen off a main hallway."

The owners' next consideration was making the practice reflect clients' tastes. "We wanted to be proud when we took pet owners into the back of the hospital," says Dr. Ladderud. "When we finished the project, we even held a couple of open houses so we could show off the entire practice. I think it solidifies your relationship with clients to let them see that you offer a clean, fresh-smelling, and safe place for their pets."

Part of the appeal, the doctors say, comes from their choice to use rich colors and an upscale design in the reception area. "We owe the color scheme in the reception area to Dr. Kress' wife, Nancy," says Dr. Ladderud. In fact, Nancy designed the entire color scheme, both interior and exterior, and handled all the interior decorating.

"Putting together the facility design was like putting together a puzzle," Dr. Ladderud continues. "We looked for ways to fit as much as we could into a defined space."

Making the transition

"When we moved into the new facility, we had to get used to the increased space. We were like sheep moving together; then we realized that we could use intercoms," says Dr. Fazzari. "It took a change in mindset to communicate without seeing each other. At first we joked that we were having withdrawal from the close contact!"

A veterinarian stays at the clinic's furnished apartment each weekend to offer regional emergency service. Adjacent to the apartment is an employee lounge and kitchenette that staff members use for team-training meetings and staff breaks. Dr. John Ladderud made the maple cabinetry in the kitchen and lounge.

But the withdrawal was worth it for Animal Clinic East's team members. At the previous facility, team members didn't have anywhere to sit down and answer phone calls or write up notes. And they had nowhere to eat lunch or take a break.

"The old building didn't offer any creature comforts at all," admits Dr. Ladderud. "I really don't know why our team members continued to work with us at the old clinic; it was a true testament to their love of animals."

To reward the hard-working staff, Dr. Ladderud and his co-owners made designing comfortable workspaces for team members a high priority. For example, the treatment area includes a report desk with computers, phones, and data ports; and a dedicated dental station. The doctors also built in a comfortable employee lounge and kitchenette for breaks and continuing education meetings.

Invest to win

"We didn't just want our clients to love the new practice," says Dr. Ladderud. "We also wanted our team members to love it. Our staff members had suffered along with us in the old facility, and we knew they'd thoroughly enjoy the rewards of the nicer workspace as much as we do."

Sarah A. Moser is a freelance writer in Olathe, Kan. Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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