From the ground up

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May 02, 2008
By dvm360.com staff

She worked in hospitals in Arkansas, California, Kansas, and Missouri, but never saw her dream hospital. Why? Dr. Michelle Chappell dreams in green.

Mariposa Veterinary Clinic opened in December in suburban Lenexa, Kan. Everything in the clinic, except for the parvovirus-fighting cleaner, is recycled and/or environmentally friendly. The builder constructed Mariposa's walls from a local farmer's straw bales. (No, it doesn't look like the Three Little Pigs' house of straw—it's covered with stucco and a paint free of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds.) Light cascades into the lobby through well-placed skylights and tall windows. The compact flourescent light bulbs fill every room with a full spectrum of light to make sure team members feel sunny even in winter. Additional warmth is provided by the hospital's direction. It's angled on the land to face south, and the brown-stained concrete flooring absorbs the sun's rays in winter. In summer, the overhang above the windows shields the lobby from the sun's harsh rays.

The clinic even smells clean, fresh, and natural. A brisk breeze was flowing into the lobby on the spring day we visited, and added to the fragrance of recycled wood in the ceiling. The lobby is alive with two friendly clinic cats—a one-eyed orange-furred greeter and a more rambunctious gray kitten. Behind the reception desk is a large aviary, home to Dr. Chappell's two birds: a yellow-naped Amazon parrot named Jolly and an umbrella cockatoo named Sherlock. The paint everywhere is allergy-safe and VOC-free, so Dr. Chappell's two daughters and friends were able to pitch in and not worry about inhaling fumes.

Before opening Mariposa, Dr. Chappell was a relief veterinarian and traveled far and wide. She and her husband lived and worked in San Diego for more than 10 years. The windfall from the sale of their Southern California home paid for the land for the brand-new clinic. It could have paid for a veterinary hospital in a strip mall, but Dr. Chappell wanted a kid-friendly workplace she'd love spending time in. The clinic doesn't sport a daycare center, but kids play in a space of their own. When her kids are off in the summer, they'll be coming in to do chores. When team members' daycare falls through for a day or two, they can keep the kids occupied at the clinic. And a buy-in to a pre-existing clinic or a leasehold could have been nearly as eco-friendly as Dr. Chappell's dream hospital is. "I've worked a lot on animal allergies, and I wanted it to be healthy in addition to energy-efficient," she says.

Learn more about Dr. Chappell's clinic, green building techniques, and much more in the 2008 Hospital Design supplement coming with the June 2008 issue of Veterinary Economics.