Apex Vets Construction: Three unique factors that influenced this build

This fall, Montgomery County will have a brand-new, independently-owned veterinary hospital, Apex Vets. HBW Construction is constructing the 21,000-square-foot facility within the footprint of a former Sears store. 

When complete, Apex Vets will house 24-hour emergency care, multiple specialties, and many purpose-built spaces with state-of-the-art equipment. The project is the vision of Dr. Ben Donati, whose enthusiasm has infected the entire HBW Construction team, inspiring three unique influences on the construction: the owner’s involvement, HBW relationships, and our team’s personal dedication to bringing this vision to life.

An owner’s impact on the construction process

The rise of veterinary service build-outs in the mid-Atlantic follows a trend seen across the country. The pets that many people got during the pandemic for companionship and comfort now need daycare, grooming, medical care, and playtime. 

When we were asked to bid on the contract through the architect, we were optimistic that our experience and our connections to the area would get us through to the interview round. They did, and soon we met Dr. Donati, who also has strong ties to the area having graduated from the University of Maryland, and his partner, a retiring veterinary surgeon who had built three veterinary hospitals in Texas and who has more than 30 years of experience in the industry.

Apex Vets is the first construction project for Dr. Donati, and he approaches it like a student, wanting to learn our process, know our people, and be on-site almost daily. Many times, when you have an owner coming to the site, it’s because of a problem or delay. In this case, it’s the opposite. Dr. Donati comes and works out of the site because he’s interested in every aspect of the construction and loves watching the building process go according to plan. He quickly made friends with Superintendent, Hector Ventura, and Sr. Project Manager, Alexandra Dramby, and other HBW staff and subcontractors on site.  

Hector reflects, “It goes without saying that we are committed to every project but having Dr. Donati so involved has made this project feel personal. Hearing him imagine what it will be like, and even his day-to-day progress of getting the right equipment and hiring the right doctors, is exciting and brings a greater purpose to our work. The long hours and long weeks don’t feel like work because we are helping build his dream.”

Dr. Donati agrees, “Soon, this won’t be about construction anymore – it will be about medicine. Hector and Alex helped bridge the gap as we moved from paper-pushing to framing to completion.”

building relationships with HBW construction

When the Apex Vets construction project hit a few early challenges, Dr. Donati’s engagement helped resolve things quickly. We were initially asked to shave $500,000 off the budget, and we were actually able to get costs down by value engineering the project and changing some specs. Dr. Donati helped us understand why some design decisions were important for veterinary care but also areas where costs could be cut.

On the scheduling side, Sr. Project Manager Alexandra “Alex” Dramby was forecasting and planning nearly a year in advance while the country was still struggling with supply chain issues. She identified long-lead items and built the schedule around their delivery, slotting in permits and electrical and mechanical tasks so the project could get started on time. In fact, Alex predicted that Apex Vets would be ready on October 20th of this year. Dr. Donati has so much confidence in this date, even with an understanding of how common delays in construction can be, that he planned his wedding for that same weekend. The long days and extra weekend work is all so we can make both of Dr. Donati’s special days a reality.

Building relationships into the construction process

We’ve written before about the unique culture of HBW Construction and the value placed on building relationships, from leadership out to the field. Those relationships have had a huge impact on the Apex Vets project. 

The scale of the build and the precise schedule has put pressure on others involved with the project. The design team, for example, is located in Boston, too far away for frequent site visits. We’ve had to rely on email and pictures, and video to help them visualize design change requests. The distance requires additional communication – but it came from an unexpected place – the subcontractors! As each sub started combing through the drawings, they identified potential red flags and brought them to Alex’s attention. Having a close and trusted relationship with our subs helped us avoid future delays.

Electricity is a vital part of the Apex Vets build, and the specialized equipment, MRI, CT, & X-Ray machines, require electricity upon delivery. Knowing this, we got the ball rolling last December. Pepco set schedules and time frames for work, but since our MRI delivery date was so critical, Alex took the extra step to get higher-ups at Pepco on the phone to help them see this as an important project with real people behind it, not just the next box on their checklist. 


Going above and beyond

Does a project matter more when it’s being built in your hometown? You bet it does! We’ve both felt a special connection to this project. Dr. Donati said, “HBW’s local reputation stood out to me, and it was important to them too. It’s clear that this is not just another project. They are building our business into their community.” 

From a personal perspective, we really leaned in to gain additional veterinary expertise. Though we have extensive experience in medical builds, learning the intricacies required for Apex Vets has been exciting, from installing a dog exercise yard to considering the needs of intubating a cat in an ICU. 

This is a project that demands 110%. If we had the mindset that 40 hours a week was plenty, and just hitting the checkmarks was enough, then the construction of Apex Vets wouldn’t be where it is today. 

“This morning as I was getting ready to leave my house at dawn, I saw that Alex had sent three emails out already to make sure the day went smoothly,” said Hector.

“I almost feel like it’s the norm to go above and beyond to deliver a home run of a project and meet the client’s expectations,” replied Alex.

That feeling is shared by all involved in Apex Vets. HBW Construction held a Safety Appreciation Day recently and brought in lunch, handed out HBW and Apex Vets-branded shirts, and raffled off prizes to the subcontractors who have been doing such a good job for us. We spend more time here with these people on any given week than at home, and we really want them to understand how they fit into the big picture and are appreciated. 

hbw safety appreciation week

People kind of do a double-take when you do something nice for them, but we hope that our efforts spread kindness and that our crews pay it forward. Everyone is looking forward to the last big milestones of this project – the installation of a giant MRI machine at the end of August and the final delivery date in October that turned out to be one heck of a wedding gift for the owner and his family. We expect Dr. Donati’s pups, Franklin and Winston, will be equally pleased.   

To learn more about our unique approach visit the Project Management page on our website.