Bigger and better

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building your veterinary practice

How does it feel moving your business from a poky, tiny building to a large and expansive purpose-built hospital? Answer: It feels great! By Kerryn Ramsey

When Dr Alex Keough purchased a veterinary practice in the regional NSW town of Wagga Wagga in 2015, she knew that the working conditions weren’t ideal. The building was an old three-bedroom house that had undergone minimal modifications to turn it into veterinary business. Total space was 100 square metres. 

“It was tiny,” says Dr Keough. “A few of the consult rooms were only 1.5 metres wide. We had no choice but to use space very efficiently. We were also forced to spread the workload by undertaking cleaning and stocktakes after hours. This worked so well, we eventually became a 24-hour practice.”

Despite the cramped conditions, the business was going well and gaining clients. After a couple of years, Dr Keough decided they needed to move to larger premises. Unfortunately, due to Wagga zoning and council regulations, the search for a large site with plenty of parking took five years. 

“The site we eventually found was huge,” says Dr Keough. “Definitely larger than what I envisaged. I knew I was overcapitalising on the land and the only way to make it work was to build a really large practice. I was jumping in the deep end but at least I was jumping with my eyes open!”

From the ground up

This purpose-built practice, Lake Road Veterinary Hospital, opened in December 2022. It is a 1000 square metre centre offering 24/7 care and emergency services. It has six consult rooms, two surgeries, an expansive double height waiting area, six wards, a cage room, an ICU, an isolation area and a dedicated space for exotics and wildlife. There’s also an X-ray room, ultrasound area, CT room and a mix of offices, staff rooms, meeting rooms, laundry and kitchen.

“Lake Road is the largest new build we’ve ever completed,” says Carl McKay, general manager at Cyclo Group. The company provides design, construction, fit-outs and renovations to an array of specialist industries. “The site offered great access but there was some hydrocarbon contamination. We undertook extensive remediation work to make it completely safe.”

Lake Road is the largest new build we’ve ever completed. The site offered great access but there was some hydrocarbon contamination. We undertook extensive remediation work to make it completely safe.

Dr Alex Keough, owner, Lake Road Veterinary Hospital

The site was a gentle hill with a cut through added by a previous owner. McKay and his team designed the extensive practice on the first level with direct client access from the back car park. The upper level contains offices, meeting rooms, admin and other behind-the-scenes facilities. The lower level was designed to house four tenancies. As it turns out, Wagga is desperately short of kids’ daycare. 

“We‘re now assisting with the design and approval of a daycare centre on the ground floor,” says McKay. “It not only adds value to the building but it’s also an additional revenue stream.”

The look

A common problem with extremely large practices is that they can have a cold and industrial feel. This is certainly not an issue for Lake Road Veterinary Hospital. It’s an expansive, almost monumental space filled with warmth and soft tones. Natural light floods the internal spaces while comfy grey-hued furniture is complemented by navy blue pops of colour on doors, walls and desks.

The layout sees an intuitive workflow through the building. The isolation ward that often has a lot of contamination, is near the laundry. The euthanasia room is next door to the loading bay where the bodies go to cremation. The loading bay is also close to reception for deliveries. The pharmacy is nearby so drugs and orders can be unpacked.

“If a client needs to walk through the practice, there’s no dramas,” says Dr Keough. “Every room looks smart, professional and clean. I love the way the building is laid out. You can be doing a dental and then take three steps to the left to provide discharge instructions. A couple of more steps and you’re in the vet hub. Everything is accessible.”

Dr Keough used Cyclo to provide the design, construction, build, fit-out and interior design of the practice. This, more than anything, is why the building looks and works so well.

“Our in-house architects and interior designer pulled all the various elements together to create one cohesive look,” says McKay. “While veterinary equipment is a priority, if the budget can cover the finishing touches, it can make all the difference to how clients perceive the practice.”

One thing Dr Keough didn’t expect was the increase in cleaning in such a large practice. After all, if you’re only working 100 square metres, you only have to clean 100 square metres.

“During the first couple of weeks in the new hospital, we were seeing emergency after emergency,” says Dr Keough. “We’d just keep moving from one consult room to consult room until all six were used. One of the first things I did was redesign and increase our cleaning schedules.”

Vet central

The move from a poky little house to the expansive new practice took 12 hours. The old practice was closed down at 6pm and the new practice opened at 6am the next day. The reaction from staff and clients was enthusiastically positive.

“Our old practice could fit four chairs in the waiting room,” says Dr Keough. “I was always concerned about waiting times with clients jammed in that small room. While I’m still conscious of wait times, it’s different when clients are in a pleasant environment with a coffee and hot chocolate machine.”

Carl McKay is still amazed that Dr Keough and her team were able to function out of the old premises. “It was extraordinary,” he says, “The place was bursting at the seams. The fact that Alex was able to offer quality care is a testament to her professionalism. The move to the new practice is the biggest jump in space of any vet I’ve dealt with. There’s no doubt that Lake Road Veterinary Hospital is a new local landmark in this regional area.

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