Cover Story – Beckwith Veterinary Hospital: Green From The Ground Up
Beckwith Veterinary Hospital:
Green From The Ground Up
By Justin Souza
When Veterinarian Dr. Michael O’Brien decided to build a new veterinary hospital in Modesto in 2010, he didn’t want to create the typical building. Instead, Dr. O’Brien set off on a project to create an environmentally-responsible office that would be revolutionarily green both during the construction process and throughout a lifetime of use.
In August of 2012, the building that Dr. O’Brien dreamed up officially opened its doors as Beckwith Veterinary Hospital. The 15,000 square foot hospital—with its soaring ceilings and gorgeous wood interior—doesn’t immediately look like the kind of space that would be a hallmark of green construction. But the building actually reflects a revolution in the way earth-friendly construction is approached in the Central Valley.
Dr. O’Brien’s green priorities are evident everywhere you look, including the incredible water runoff collection system that serves as the heart of a unique low-waste landscape system. From its structural choices engineered to remain low maintenance for generations to come to active solar power generation and much more, Beckwith Veterinary Hospital has truly been built green from the ground up.
Built with LEED Principles
According to Dr. O’Brien’s son Dr. Chad O’Brien, the whole building was conceived with the guidance of principles from the worldwide LEED movement. The system, which inspires green building practices across more than 135 countries, goes beyond simply encouraging basic practices like recycling. Their respected certification system also awards points for earth-friendly planning which anticipates the way a building will actually be used throughout its lifecycle.
Dr. Chad O’Brien said that that he hoped the hospital would earn a Gold certification during its upcoming assessment, which would place Beckwith Veterinary Hospital among the greenest buildings in the country.
From day one of construction, the hospital has been destined for high marks. “Whenever we could, we built with recycled materials, and during construction we recycled or reused everything we possibly could instead of sending it to the landfill. Even our office furniture has been made from materials leftover from our building project or reused,” said Dr. Chad O’Brien. Even the chairs gathered around the conference table were reclaimed pieces which date back to the 1940s.
The building’s exterior is constructed from 6-inch insulated panels that provide an insulation rating equivalent to R70, or the approximate insulation level used to keep commercial freezers icy on the inside no matter the exterior conditions. “Once you heat or cool this building, the outside temperature doesn’t influence it much,” said Dr. Michael O’Brien. The hospital was also constructed to harvest solar energy in order to offset the use of electricity necessary to do any heating and cooling, as well as to power the day to day operations of a large-scale veterinary office. “This building is 15,000 square feet and costs less in power than our Maze office, which is a third the size,” added Dr. Chad O’Brien.
In its upcoming certification assessment, Dr. Michael O’Brien indicated that Beckwith Veterinary Hospital will also benefit from its use of motion-sensor equipped LED lights, widespread utilization of recycled materials—including the hospital’s beautiful redwood ceiling which was made with reclaimed wine vats originally used by Pirrone Vineyards in the 1930s—and their inclusion of employee amenities like a weight room and full service kitchens which can help workers reduce the need to drive in search of lunch each day.
“It all goes in. Everything we did during the construction and all of the things we added to help during daily use,” said Dr. Michael O’Brien.
While most of the green building techniques utilized in the hospital’s construction borrow from established LEED technology, Dr. Michael O’Brien said that the building also includes some features that haven’t been done anywhere else in the industry.
Efficient water use throughout the building’s lifecycle was a major priority for the hospital. To this end, the construction process included the installation of a 300,000-gallon cistern beneath the parking lot and an EPIC water management system which uses an innovative underground method to passively collect, filter, retain and distribute water for all of the lot’s landscaping. The system, which was devised by Firestone Specialty Products, has previously been used to maintain golf courses in the arid Middle East, but until now the system had never been used in Northern California. “All the water we need to use for irrigation has been collected from rainwater. It keeps our plants very healthy and I know our water usage is way less than it normally would be because of it,” said Dr. O’Brien. “It’s been a really phenomenal system.”
In addition to providing water to the landscaping, the cistern serves as a heatsink for the building’s climate system. “The water in the tank can preheat or cool all of the air that comes into the building. It helps reduce heat loss and makes our air conditioning system much more efficient.”
“Building something really efficient like this has been in the back of my mind for years,” said Dr. Michael O’Brien. But his plans didn’t end with simply a LEED certification.
He said that he knew that the new office would likely be the space that his son would use throughout his career, and he wanted to leave his son a building that wouldn’t need the upkeep of traditional construction. “I wanted to build it in such a way that he won’t have to replace things. I feel like we’ve just eliminated a lot of upkeep costs down the road. It will be less money for Dr. Chad O’Brien to continue to run and to maintain way into the future.”
Dr. O’Brien said that the choices which underlie Beckwith Veterinary Hospital aren’t so different than the choices that any other builder would make. “I just looked at all the different costs and figured all the energy and water savings to see what would cost us less in the long haul.”
“In the long term, this building will way more than pay for itself,” said Dr. O’Brien, “and that’s the whole idea. There’s no reason we can’t build something that will last a hundred years or more and save us money all along the way.”
For this building and the many other local buildings which are sure to be inspired by it, this long haul, green-principled view is what will help build our construction industry—and our whole area—find a greener future.