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Building Your Dental Office
Inside tips for managing the process
Building a new dental office? Chances are it will constitute the largest single investment you ever make in your practice. You can position yourself for success by doing two simple things: Studying up on the design/construction process, and finding the best general contractor for the job.
If you’re in the market to construct a building from the ground up, expect it to take about 9 months—including design and permits—and be prepared to hire a civil engineer and an architect. Interior buildouts and renovations usually last approximately 6 months (again, accounting for design and permits) and don’t require a civil engineer. Not sure where to begin? Most contractors who specialize in medical/dental construction can help you find the right design team. Or, if you prefer, they can take the entire project in-house, creating a design-build project delivery that minimizes owner risk through a single source of responsibility.
Tip: Be wary of contractors with reputations as “low-cost” providers. The lowest bidder often creates an adversarial relationship between the owner and architect. A firm that recklessly cuts corners to keep costs down ultimately compromises the overall project quality, schedule, and budget.
Design and Review
Let’s assume you’ve leased a first-generation commercial property and plan to build out the interior. You have your design team in place and are in the process of choosing a contractor. First, your architect will draw up plans and submit permit documents to the local building department. While these are being reviewed, the contractor will start pricing the plan, working with you and the architect to negotiate any changes. Between the architectural design and permitting phases, anticipate roughly 3 months.
Tip: Industry resources can give you a preliminary idea of the cost per square foot. Using that information, sophisticated clients will choose to negotiate contracts, rather than sacrifice quality and service by simply “bidding out” their jobs to the lowest-cost provider. During negotiations, request a complete cost breakdown that spells out the project’s conditions and scope. Also make sure to ask for client referrals, consult with the Better Business Bureau, and consider the contractor’s experience with related projects.
The Construction Phase
Once a contract has been reached and the building department has approved the permit, construction begins. An on-site manager, or superintendent, is assigned to ensure compliance with the schedule and job specifications. A project manager will report to the client to make sure performance is on budget, ahead of schedule, and to quality standards. If changes or logistical problems arise, your contractor should be able to facilitate solutions quickly and effectively. The construction phase is usually 3 months for a typical dental interior buildout and 6 months for a ground-up project.
Tip: Make sure the firm provides a detailed schedule and that it is followed. Changes are sometimes uncontrollable and inevitable, so when unexpected delays arise, the contractor should provide a written explanation and revised completion date.
Customizations and Closeout
Throughout the project, a good contractor will work closely with your dental equipment supplier and architect to build each room to predetermined specifications. It’s important that mechanical, electrical, and plumbing connections be coordinated with your specific tools, furnishings, and equipment systems. Factors to consider include: filtered water setup, power requirements, vacuumed suction, compressed air, solid surfaces, and custom cabinets. In the closeout phase, contractors perform a number of important activities—such as final cleanup, inspections, and internal punch list—prior to the final walkthrough. Basically, they handle everything but the furniture, fixtures, and interior décor.
Tip: Professionalism, organization, and control are highly important, especially when coworkers or colleagues visit the job site. The best firms employ superintendents who make sure their area is clean and safe, and that the crew is doing its job appropriately. Drop in unannounced from time to time, to see if things are being done the right way.
About the Author
Todd Andrew is president and owner of Andrew General Contractors, a full-service Orlando-based firm he started in 1996 after 9 years of management and operational experience in the construction industry. Andrew GC has built and renovated dozens of medical facilities and labs for clients in the fields of dentistry, diagnostics, derma-pathology, OB/GYN, ophthalmology, skilled nursing, and general wellness. One of his main clients is Sage Dental, with 40-plus locations throughout Florida. To learn more, visit www.AndrewGC.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.