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The key steps to designing a practice

Although there are unique factors to consider, designing a veterinary practice involves the same key steps essential to any building project

06 September 2018, at 12:00am

Where do you start? Are you planning to improve the practice’s current workspaces? You may be thinking of converting a building to create a brand new outlet, like Tim Pearson, the owner of Orchard House Vets, who recently took on an old police station in Northumberland and transformed it into a second surgery (Figures 1 and 2).

Either way, it is strongly advised that you start by appointing an architect to undertake a feasibility study of your building. An architect will not only review the condition of the existing building, but also create a brief for the new changes that will be required to create a state-of-the-art surgery. In accordance with the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Plan of Work, your architect will develop a useful roadmap for a project. When it comes to creating the brief, take the time to do your homework. It’s more than a simple list of room names. Think of them as spaces and how they connect to each other. This “flow” of spaces will define how your practice works. No two practices work in the same way, so provide as much information as you can to the architect to explain how your practice prefers to work.

RIBA Stage 1: Creating a brief

  • Ask all the staff what they like about the existing building and what they don’t. Everyone’s views from receptionist and admin staff to the clinical team will be different
  • Consider whether it is time to introduce new services or facilities and if so, will the building need to be extended to do so?
  • Do the existing facilities work to meet modern standards or equipment needs?
  • Define the standards you are working to. If your premises are to RCVS core standards, do you wish to improve to practice level or to veterinary hospital standards? The RCVS standards cover in detail all aspects of running a practice but shouldn’t be considered a design guide

This feedback will be useful to the architect and will help mould the design brief. Clients often want to get into the micro detail before they have decided on the fundamentals of a project – like choosing colours before deciding if the new consulting room is required.

FIGURE 1 Orchard House Vets recently transformed an old police station into a second surgery
FIGURE 1 Orchard House Vets recently transformed an old police station into a second surgery

RIBA Stage 2: Concept design

Once a scheme has been developed through drawings and discussions, a plan can be created. Factors to consider are:

  • Planning – if the project involves alterations and extensions, a discussion with the local authority may be required. Don’t think that internal works only excuse you from permissions – they don’t! Also note that if your property is listed, extra permissions are required
  • All building projects require building control. This should be considered carefully when the works involve structural amendments, fire escapes, updating electrics or any other upgrade to the fabric of the building
  • Programme of works. This is easier on a new build or empty conversion and more complex on a refurbishment
  • Cost is too important to ignore. Always get a cost plan on the early design ideas to get an early estimate. This will aid with financial planning and arranging any necessary bank loans

RIBA Stage 3: Detailed design

The detailed design stage sees plans developed so that all the accommodation needs are included and any new extensions that have been designed are signed off by the client. The next important step is submission to the local authority’s planning department for approval before any construction works can commence.

RIBA Stage 4: Technical aspects

It is at this stage that we get down to the detail: for example, considering the actual materials, finishes and systems that you want to install.

The scheme needs to allow for:

  • Building regulations
  • Details of all equipment, including power, ventilation and safety of X-ray machines
  • Mechanical and electrical systems – LED lights use a fraction of the power of old lights, so it’s probably time for a change. Heating systems – has the old boiler seen its day? If so, more efficient and cost effective choices can be made
  • Finishes – the choice of paint, anti-slip floors and counter tops all need to be decided at this stage

Using this information, your architect will develop a package of information to create a tender document for appointing a contractor. It is normal at this stage for other professionals to be called in, such as structural and building services engineers.

FIGURE 2 The process was challenging and took time and commitment, but the end result made the Orchard House Vets redesign worthwhile
FIGURE 2 The process was challenging and took time and commitment, but the end result made the Orchard House Vets redesign worthwhile

RIBA Stage 4P: Procurement – finding the contractor

Finding the right contractor is vital, as is selecting the correct contractual route. A good architect will draw up a list of contractors based on experience of contractors in the sector (have they built a surgery before?) and size and complexity of the job.

Professional peers may know of a good contractor and recommendation is always good, so ask other surgeries who they have used. Tendering or negotiating are the usual methods.

RIBA Stage 5: Building

Once you have a preferred contractor in mind, agreeing the price, programme and phases is vital before signing a contract. Projects that run the smoothest typically have all this set out in a contract signed by both parties prior to commencement on site.

Regular site meetings should be insisted upon as they allow the practice to discuss the day-to-day issues and challenges of planning the workload, especially if working on a live site.

There will be issues and challenges with the project, especially on a refurbishment, as unforeseen elements will inevitably arise. That’s why adding a contingency into the contract allows for these issues and stops them becoming a real drama.

RIBA Stage 6: Completion

This is a summary of the tasks involved in designing and delivering a practice. The process is not simple and will require time and commitment from everyone involved.

However, with open and honest communication between everybody involved, problems will be solved and you will have a fantastic practice facility which will support the ongoing success of your veterinary business.

Neil Turner is an award-winning architect with 25 years’ experience in designing buildings spanning sectors such as healthcare, education and commercial office space. Neil’s experience in healthcare has been instrumental when it comes to designing for veterinary practices.

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