Why convert an existing building into a veterinary hospital?

August 26, 2020
Kelsey Gustafson, Associate Editor

Are you looking to open your own practice? One way to do it while cutting costs and protecting the environment is to repurpose an existing structure into a veterinary hospital.

Old buildings are more likely to be considered inefficient or outdated than character-filled spaces with reimagined purpose—especially considering veterinary hospital standards. But things are not always how they appear, according to Daniel D. Chapel, AIA, NCARB, owner of Chapel Associates Architects Inc. in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Repurposing buildings holds more advantages than meet the eye,” Chapel said in a lecture today at the Fetch dvm360 virtual conference.

Consider your surroundings. Maybe you’re a visionary who wants to restore older buildings, perhaps the cost of building development sites is out of range, or you simply enjoy antique flair and want to work in an historical section of your area. Note that older buildings often outlive their initial purpose, whether it was formerly a restaurant, church, or a bank. The point to drive home, Chapel said, is that these buildings contain key features when it comes to repurposing them for your practice.

Adaptive reuse

The adaptive reuse, or conversion process can be defined as taking an existing building and repurposing it as, for instance, an animal hospital. Chapel explained the benefits of adaptive reuse, including the fact that repurposing a historic building allows you to receive tax credits from the historic preservation program of your state. Another benefit: an established infrastructure. Reusing a building that already has pre-existing connections to municipal, transportation, and community services can cut costs compared with new construction on the same site.

When comparing costs per square foot, a remodeled or renovated building may actually cost less than a new building of equal size. If you are able to work mostly within an existing structure, the time of construction might be substantially less.

Save green while going green

If you’re already in support of recycling and conserving materials to promote a more stabilized ecosystem, then converting an older building may have an even larger appeal for you. First, the existing infrastructure can be reused, lowering the costs of installing utilities like sewer, water and power.

This also plays into the idea of having a minimum impact on the environment. By utilizing a ready-made space, not only are your site costs lower, but you are not developing new building materials in untouched green or open space. “Everybody talks about going green and saving plastic bottles and so forth,” said Chapel. “Well, think how fantastic it is to save a whole building. Think of how much money, resources, and time went into making the building materials that you find.”

Not so fast…

Before you make the decision to convert, and definitely before you purchase a site, consider in these factors:

  • Zoning: Municipal zoning ordinances can be restrictive in established locations. Contesting or altering zoning can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • Parking: The number of existing parking spaces or room on the site for new parking spaces may be insufficient.
  • Structural condition: A building in poor structural condition most likely cannot be repurposed; the repair cost is usually prohibitive.
  • Existing building materials: Existing building materials or finishes may not be attractive, up-to-date, or appropriate for a veterinary hospital, and existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems may be substandard or insufficient for a modern animal facility.
  • Dangerous building materials: Many older buildings were constructed with hazardous materials (eg, asbestos, lead, heavy metals). Removal or remediation of these materials can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • ADA requirements: Meeting current Americans with Disabilities Act requirements may be too restrictive or costly.