Your Business

Converting an existing building into a veterinary clinic

Two practices in unusual buildings used creative design to achieve functionality and convenience in great locations. By Frank Leggett

When setting up your own practice, position is all important. Often, older, unusual buildings can be well located but appear difficult to convert into a modern veterinary practice. While there can be challenges, in reality, very few obstacles can’t be overcome. This is true even if the building is an old cordial factory or a jail.

Dr Jen Griffiths was running a small clinic in Launceston, Tasmania, but knew it was time to upgrade to larger premises. She had been watching a potential property for a while—a former bond store and cordial factory originally built in 1840.

“The position was perfect,” she recalls. “The building had been partly restored in order to save it from dereliction but I wasn’t sure it would work as a veterinary practice.”

Heritage save

The building was part of larger development and over the years, different developers had tried unsuccessfully to get permission to demolish the derelict site.

“The Heritage Council wanted this building to be saved,” says Scott Curran, director of ARTAS Architects. “It was in a terrible state. A large series of steel props on one side of the building was the only thing preventing it from falling down.”

ARTAS Architects were engaged by Old Bond Store Investments to save and restore the building. The first thing they did was relocate the steel frame to the other side of the building. A warehouse roof that was associated with the cordial factory was recreated. The shell of the building was salvaged and stabilised.

Wish list

“Jen approached us at this point,” says Curran. “She loved the building and wanted to put her vet surgery inside it. That was the start of a long conversation with her.”

When Dr Griffiths looked at the site, it was basically one big open plan room. Her wish-list included a sterile surgical theatre and a treatment area for non-sterile procedures. A separate cat and dog ward was an essential, along with multiple consult rooms and a laboratory area.

“I had worked in a lot of small clinics in the past and the most important thing for me was a large, open and welcoming waiting area,” says Dr Griffiths. “I was overjoyed with what ARTAS created.”

Contemporary and historic

The constraints of the building meant the conversion had to work around multiple columns and exposed brickwork. There were also a number of heritage limitations that would take some creative thinking to overcome.

“We added freestanding stud walls inside the building where original brick work wasn’t left exposed,” says Curran. “At any point in the future, these walls can be removed and the building returned to its original condition.”

When visiting Pet’s Life Veterinary Care, you walk into a reception and waiting area. Directly behind that are two consult rooms and a lab. Some seriously degraded brickwork was removed to make a large opening between the reception and treatment areas. On the other side of the building is the X-ray room, surgeries, kennels, cattery, staff kitchen and bathroom.

“The existing windows of the original bond store were retained,” says Curran. “The new sawtooth roofing over the consult rooms allows plenty of natural light into the space.”

Launceston is a historic town with a strong connection to its past. While modern avant-garde architecture has its place, the overall feel of any area should be considered. Maintaining this historic building while repurposing it as a 21st-century vet clinic is simply a win/win situation.

“I love everything about it,” says Dr Griffiths. “It’s spectacular and genuine and a pleasure to work in. When we approached ARTAS to put our vet clinic in here, we didn’t know if it was possible or even a sensible idea. I count myself very lucky and privileged to be in this beautiful building every day.”

Arresting development

When Dr Jodie Spence and her husband, Dr Marcus Stafford, purchased their practice in Yankalilla on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia in 2012, they knew that changing the layout of the rooms was virtually impossible. Yankalilla Veterinary Clinic is positioned in the town’s old police station and jail.

“The heart of the practice is basically a rectangular shape with rooms coming off it,” says Dr Spence. “The stone walls are about 40cm thick and some of the windows still have bars on them. Our reception was originally in one of the old jail cells.”

The cell was small and poky so the reception area was moved out front into the larger waiting room. That cell was converted into an office where digital equipment is stored. The other cell is the kennel room that holds purpose-built kennels to fit the space.

The building was a jail from 1900 to 1980 when it was sold to a vet who originally turned it into a clinic. The original vet worked out the best layout of the building and Dr Spence has stayed with that design.

The thick walls offer advantages and disadvantages. “We haven’t had to add any soundproofing to any of our rooms,” she says. “The downside is that we had to hard-wire all our technology. Wi-fi signals can’t penetrate the walls so we drilled holes to pass wiring between rooms.”

Town connections

While Dr Spence would love to open up the clinic, it’s simply cost prohibitive to pull down the solid walls. Lighting has been added to all rooms and the kennels have replaced the barred door with floor-to-ceiling glass. While the building has its limitations, it’s unique and has a good story.

In fact, one of the clients at Yankalilla Veterinary Clinic has a very special connection with the building—he was the last person locked up in the cells.

“He was done for being drunk and disorderly in 1980,” says Dr Spence. “He’s now a lovely old fellow and has no qualms about bringing in his dog.”