Renovating, refurbishing, extending or moving your practice? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Renovating, refurbishing, extending or moving your practice?

GAVIN WILLIS discusses the value of expert advice at an early stage

INVESTING in your practice involves making some big decisions.

If you get everything, or at least most things, right you will not only substantially increase its value and profitability, but you will also create the working environment that you truly want.

On the other hand, if you get it wrong, you will not just waste money, but you stand a fair chance of losing clients and demotivating staff and colleagues.

Paradigm Design, co-sponsor of the 2008 Veterinary Practice WOW! Awards, has many years’ experience working with the health professions. The firm’s creative skills and innovative designs are fully recognised by the professions, but it is their ability to turn these into bottom line profit that has earned the company its reputation and helped its clients avoid making costly mistakes.

The right way to start

However grandiose, however modest your plans for your practice, a feasibility study is an absolute must. It is an essential start point and it will, unquestionably, save you money. It will also save you time and could help you avoid the kind of mistakes that can cripple a practice.

At the start you may be undecided. You may have outgrown your practice and be considering replanning, extending or even moving. You need to do something, but the question is what? The key is not to rush into anything.

Essentially you need expert advice from people with an understanding of the way a practice works, combined with building and structural knowledge and design/architect capability.

The right way to start is to prepare a brief, setting out your objectives and defining the problems as you see them. Give this brief to those you wish to tender and let them suggest the best solution both in structure and cost considerations.

This will allow you to evaluate the capabilities of the firms you have asked to tender and ensure that a number of options have been considered before a final decision is reached.

Why you need a feasibility study

In many cases, moving premises is not even a consideration (or a necessity). Equally, in many others it may be, and it is difficult, accurately and objectively to assess the pros and cons. The first thing a feasibility study will do is point clearly the direction that should be followed.

Many practices grow in an unplanned fashion and as a result make poor use of space – and simple replanning can avoid moving or extending. But what you plan has to take into account the potential disruption to your practice during the building phase.

So if the best ultimate solution to your needs is to remain in your existing premises you must consider how you will run your practice while the work is carried out. It may be more cost-effective to close down for a short period or even consider relocating reception to a portable structure in the car park (if space permits).

The important thing is to keep clients and staff informed. If they know the plans you have are for their benefit, they will be supportive, particularly if they feel involved. If they choke on builders’ dust or can’t face the noise again tomorrow, they may be less so.

What needs to be considered if a move is essential?

If your feasibility study clearly indicates the need for a move, there are five key areas to consider:

  • the age of the building
  • its construction
  • its location
  • services
  • costs

We are now getting into an area which is not only complex in view of such issues as planning permission, change of use, fire regulations and so on, but also because of the requirements and preferences of the individual.

Some of the main issues (which will require significant time and knowledgeable investigation) include: dimensions and structure, dealing with local authorities, Building Regulation approval, information gathering (often acquired anonymously) and Listed Building/Conservation Area approval.

In short, there is so much to consider and expert advice is essential.

Other considerations

New Building Regulations were introduced in April 2006 and Part L looks at heat loss through the thermal elements of a building and demands that all calculations to prove compliance (SAP) are done using approved computer software only.

You may have to think about what is known as consequential improvement. For example, you may decide to put on a new extension. Obviously this will have to comply with Building Regulations, but your Local Authority may require you to bring the rest of the building up to the same specification as the extension.

In rural or semi rural locations you will need to demonstrate that you have adequate car parking, in urban areas at least that you are close to public transport. As a general rule, local authorities will require a “sustainability” statement to be submitted with any application.

And, of course, you need to consider disability access – but with every building being different this can be a complex area and not one where generalisations are of any real value.

Getting advice

As will be clear, renovating, refurbishing, extending or moving does require you to seek expert advice at an early stage.

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