Transforming an existing building into a veterinary hospital


Reduce costs and help protect the environment by repurposing an existing structure for your practice.

Older buildings are more likely to be seen as inefficient or obsolete than spaces full of character with a reimagined purpose, especially given veterinary hospital standards. But things aren’t always as they appear, according to Daniel D. Chapel, AIA, NCARB, owner and president of Chapel Associates Architects in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Repurposing buildings has more benefits than meets the eye,” Chapel said during a dvm360 Virtual Fetch® lecture lesson.

Consider your environment. Maybe you’re a visionary who wants to restore older buildings, or the cost of construction sites is out of reach, or you just love antique charm and want to work in a historic neighborhood. Older buildings often survive their original purpose, be it a restaurant, church or bank. The point, Chapel said, is that these buildings contain key features when it comes to repurposing them for your practice.

Adaptive reuse

Adaptive reuse, or conversion process, can be defined as the repurposing of an existing building. Chapel explained that repurposing a historic building may allow you to receive tax credits from your state’s historic preservation program. Another advantage is an established infrastructure. A building that already has existing connections to utilities, transportation and community services can lower your costs compared to building a new build.

Although many historic buildings do not require complete transformations to maintain their usefulness, rehabilitation is a cost-competitive option compared to starting all over again.1 When comparing costs per square foot, a remodeled or renovated building may cost less than a new building of equal size. If you can work primarily in an existing structure, construction time can be reduced significantly.

Chapel noted that due to the economic chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many existing buildings that could be repurposed as veterinary facilities are now vacant and up for sale or rent. He suggested considering these available buildings as an alternative to completely new construction as well.

From historical monument to veterinary clinic

Lindsay Shreiber, VMD, practice owner and medical director of Valley Veterinary Hospital, purchased the historic 1734 Bull Tavern in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania to preserve the landmark and turn it into a veterinary clinic. The Tavern and Old Restaurant was originally designed to provide food and lodging for travelers during the American Revolution. Notable guests who have visited the venue, which is close to the Valley Forge battlefield, include George Washington and British Generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis, among others.

Shreiber’s dream came true with the help of Tom Carnevale, RA, NCARB, LEED AP, co-founder of Carnevale Eustis Architects, also in Phoenixville. According to Carnevale, the old tavern had been renovated throughout its history, including changes made in the 1950s and 1970s.

“The decision was made to save and preserve the original 1734 structure, which has been converted into the main offices and staff area. Some of the renovations from the 1950s and 1970s were demolished due to poor construction and were reused for some of the veterinary exam rooms,” Carnevale said.

The building’s facade was restored to its original masonry, with layers of painted stucco removed in the process.1 The windows have been replaced with historically accurate wood and shutters.2 Meanwhile, a substantial new addition has been built for grooming, dog-sitting and boarding, Carnevale said. Spaces have been created for training courses, physiotherapy and rehabilitation services, as well as acupuncture and aquatherapy.1

The establishment opened its doors in April 2019.1 According to Carnevale, Valley Veterinary Hospital is a true landmark for Phoenixville. “The 1734 structure has a very important history…[and] the business practice has flourished since being located in this facility,” Carnevale said.

Save green while going green

Although older buildings are believed not to be energy efficient, the average building built before 1920 is more energy efficient than one built between 1920 and 2000.3

If you support the recycling and conservation of materials to promote a more stabilized ecosystem, converting an older building may be of interest to you. Existing infrastructure can often be reused, reducing utility installation costs. This plays into the idea of ​​having a minimum impact on the environment. By using ready-made space, your site costs are lower and you are not developing new buildings in untouched green or open space.

“Everyone’s talking about going green and saving plastic bottles and the like,” Chapel said. “Well, think how fantastic it is to save an entire building. Think how much money, resources, and time have gone into making the building materials you find.

Not so fast…

Before making the decision to convert and before buying a site, Chapel recommends considering these factors:

  • Zoning: Municipal zoning ordinances may be restrictive in established locations. Challenging or changing zoning can be costly and time-consuming.
  • Car park: The number of existing parking spaces or space on the site for new parking spaces may be insufficient.
  • Structural condition: A building in poor structural condition most likely cannot be reused; the cost of repair is usually prohibitive.
  • Existing Building Materials: Existing building materials or finishes may not be attractive, up-to-date, or appropriate for a veterinary hospital, and existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems may be substandard or insufficient for a modern animal facility.
  • Hazardous building materials: Many older buildings were built with hazardous materials (eg asbestos, lead, heavy metals). Removal or remediation of these materials can be costly.
  • ADA Requirements: Meeting the current requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act may prove too restrictive or costly.
  • Historical monuments: Restrictions on altering buildings with historic designations or buildings located in special protected historic districts can be a significant design and cost factor. However, Chapel said, “if the building is truly historic and eligible, there are several tax credits or grants that can help offset rehabilitation costs.”


Chapel reiterated that building reuse projects are inherently green and recognize the embodied energy in existing structures rather than using building materials. “Existing infrastructure is reused and the cost to municipalities is generally lower,” he noted. He added that these projects have a limited impact on the environment while simultaneously reducing site costs by not requiring the provision of undisturbed green or open space.

The references

  1. Dr. Schreiber and his staff are proud to announce the new Valley Veterinary Hospital. Valley Veterinary Hospital. Accessed December 7, 2021.
  2. Case studies: valley veterinary hospital. Carnevale Eustis Architects Inc. Accessed December 7, 2021. https://cearchitects. com/valley-veterinary-hospital-commercial-design.php
  3. MacAskill J. Historic Preservation and Environmental Conservation. Save our heritage organization. 2009. Accessed December 3, 2021.


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