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Building a state-of-the-art hospital in Sussex

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01 May 2017, at 1:00am

JOHN PERIAM visits a new equine hospital which is aiming to be on a par with the best in the world

DRIVING INTO THE NEW ARUNDEL EQUINE HOSPITAL’S 32-acre site just north of Ashington in West Sussex, it is clear a lot of planning has gone into its design and build. It has been a dream of Rob van Pelt, one of the directors, to make the move from the current site just south of Arundel, which was long overdue. How did it all start? “It was about seven years ago when we felt that the Arundel practice buildings could not expand any further and we actively started to look for a new property,” Rob says. “It was not easy to find – it had to meet a number of criteria. Location was most important, but also easy access from all directions. We purchased a small farm with a number of old buildings from a client of the practice who wanted to downsize. It took us about four more years before we could actually commence building.” Rob had designed and built his own house, so the five fellow co-directors agreed it would be best for him to run the project. His practice workload was duly reduced and the current vets (18 in all) gave him full support while still allowing Rob to call on his key racing stable clients. Whenever Rob visited another hospital, he would note down anything he liked. This would be filed away, so when it came to design he had a head start. He is also extremely grateful to many colleagues who gave him tips. “Generally people would say ‘don’t do this!’ as they didn’t want me to make the same mistakes.” Once the initial draft was drawn up, the plans were put up on the wall at the practice for all to comment on. Some really productive comments were made. “It is interesting how everyone looks at things from a different perspective,” says Rob. The next stage was to get planning permission. To satisfy the planners, he needed to do road surveys, lighting designs, landscape designs, agree materials, etc., and once all the questions were answered, planning was relatively straightforward. “Then you must design the internal layout to the nth degree. Where you want drains, taps, light switches, sockets, data points, whether you want walls painted or plastered, etc. This is a problem area as you can’t go to a general mechanical and electrical engineer as they know nothing about horses. They would naturally put a drain in the middle of the room. However, as vets we all know that the drains need to be in corners so the horses don’t trip on them. This means lots of late nights drinking endless cups of coffee to get it as right as you can before asking builders to tender.” Once the tenders came back, Rob had to work out exactly how to finance the project. “This is when you need to become friendly with your bank manager,” he says. “Several large pieces of equipment were purchased before the building started in the knowledge that these would be required when the practice moved. This eases the cash flow during the build.” Choosing a builder is the next stage. “The premises are built on Sussex clay and this doesn’t drain very well, so we needed a builder who was capable of doing the groundworks, then build a steel framed building, with offices and accommodation,” he says. “I didn’t want lots of subcontractors. Bell and Sons ticked all the boxes. I then looked at their previous builds and asked owners if they were happy. Don’t be shy; you are going to spend a lot of money – do your homework.” The planned build was scheduled to take 72 weeks and on my visit, we had reached week 50. All looked as though it was going to plan. Rob’s tour highlighted the many equine aspects he had taken into consideration.

Equine-specific areas

There are many equine-specific areas in this new build, such as the surgery complex. This is divided into four separate areas. Firstly, the horses walk into a room where their hooves are picked out and their mouths washed. Then it is into the knock-down boxes. After they are anesthetised, they are winched onto the operating table
where they are prepped for surgery. It is only when they are all clean and ready to go that the whole table is wheeled into theatre. This makes sure that outside contamination is kept to a minimum. “There will be dedicated teams of people – on the outside of the knock-down they are considered non-sterile, whereas on the surgery side they are considered sterile, so they must be wearing scrubs. Thus there are changing rooms just off the scrub area,” Rob adds. There are three examination rooms, two including stocks. One room is set up for standing surgery, something which is becoming more common. If the weather is bad or if the light
fades in the winter, there is a long trot corridor inside the building. Off this there are rooms for MRI, CT, bone scanning and x-ray. There is also the new laboratory which Rob says is about five times the size of the current one. “We are HBLB-approved and several of the local practices have asked if we could process their samples. Unfortunately we have never had the space, but now we do,” he says. Outside there are seven bone scan stables separate from the main stable block. Then there are 20 stables with wash-down areas and two stables that can accommodate a sick foal and a mare. There is a large nurse’s work room beside the stables. Two dedicated critical care stables are off to one side with facilities for barrier nursing. Upstairs in the main building there are intern flats and studios for students or nurses who may need to stay over to monitor a relevant case. These all looked very comfortable, with stunning views of the South Downs National Park. “It is important that we look towards the future and we want to encourage students to come and do their practical training here,” says Rob. The rooms are very generous in size, plus there are facilities to wash clothes and a common TV area. There is also a large conference room. “Having the extra space Site manager Jeff Bone with Rob van Pelt beside the front entrance and facilities will give us more opportunities to increase the range of services we can offer our clients,” he says. “It is also important that we keep abreast of new techniques and with this in mind, we have included
the conference room which will be used for client evenings and veterinary continued professional development events.” All the current staff are moving to Ashington, some 14 miles north of their current site. Every two months they have a walk around and are fully updated on progress. “There is a general buzz about the practice – it’s been a long time coming. However, I am not looking forward to the actual move as there is a lot stuff to shift, including seven years of archives!” With the practice motto being “We care for and about horses”, there is no doubt when up and running that the Arundel Equine Hospital will offer its clients a rare opportunity to see equine medicine practised at its best. This is very much due to Rob van Pelt’s efforts in designing it and being given the support of his co-directors to come up with a building that is on par with the best in the world. The years of hard work, research and travel have resulted in a design that will be the envy of many.