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Out of the Ashes

Following a fire, doctors begin to create their new vision

Nine months after a fire ruined its carefully designed practice space, The Eye Site in Collinsville, Virginia, is on its way to a complete rebuild.

The fire started on a Sunday afternoon. No one was in the building at the time.

If all goes as planned, the remains of the damaged building will be torn down this summer and construction will start on its replacement, which should be finished this December.

Julie Brown, OD, and her practice partner, Shannon Zollinger, OD, were classmates at The Ohio State University School of Optometry, graduating in 2009. A few years later they decided to practice together and bought the Collinsville practice. Then they redesigned the interior, adding custom-built tables made of wood from an old distillery, and hand-made optical displays using weathered barn planks, steel pipes and antique nails. The unique look was featured in 2015 on an episode of “Salvage Dawgs” on the DIY Network. The stars of that show, from Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, Virginia, helped create The Eye Site’s unique look.

Then came the fire on a Sunday afternoon in September 2017. Dr. Brown and her husband, Frank Manuguerra, got a call at home telling them smoke had been spotted at the building. The local fire department was already on its way. “We got there and the roof was in flames,” Dr. Brown says. “That was jaw-dropping.”

                                  The rubble inside the burned practice.

Fortunately the building was empty and nobody was injured, but the practice space was unusable. The two doctors wasted little time getting back to seeing patients, through sheer determination and a little bit of luck.

The practice staff gathered at Dr. Brown’s house immediately after the fire to plan the next steps. Another optometrist nearby was able to offer his practice space as a temporary location for a few days a week. The Eye Site’s patient records were backed up offsite. “Two days after the fire, we were seeing patients,” Dr. Brown says.

A big part of their recovery was help they got from the others, both businesses and patients. “The community was very supportive. It was incredible,” she says. OSU classmates helped, sending money and supplies, she says. Contact lens vendors, too, stepped up and provided new supplies.

A modular unit on the property is the current home for The Eye Site.

The doctors hired a North Carolina company to set up a temporary, modular building on space next to the fire-damaged building. Six weeks after the fire, they moved their practice into that space and will be there until the new building is ready. Even with the disruption the practice has kept its loyal following. It was voted “Best Eye Care” in southwest Virginia in Virginia Living magazine in 2017 and 2018.

What will the new practice look like? “That’s the question everybody is asking,” Dr. Brown says. “We’re probably going to have a white front with dark windows, to have some contrast, and a black roof. It will have a farmhouse sort of feel as far as the outside. And the inside is going to have those rustic industrial touches, but different than what we had the first time.”

They’ve chosen a construction company, CPPI, from Roanoke, Virginia. The company has a lot of experience in health care projects. The new building will be bigger, around 3,600 square feet. The original building was built in the 1970s for a dental practice, and an addition had been added later. The new space “should be laid out more efficiently,” Dr. Zollinger says. “This one is designed with optometry in mind.”

The dispensary and the opticians’ stations will be different. “It will still have the industrial look,” Dr. Zollinger says. “The main difference is going to be how the glasses are dispensed. That’s going to look different.”

Inside the modular unit, the practice space looks friendly and inviting.

That will include more space for staff. “In the previous building, we didn’t have a break room for employees,” Dr. Zollinger says. It will also have office space for the doctors. “We’ve never had an office, so it will be nice.”

The experience has been exhausting in many ways, from long hours keeping up with seeing patients to the extra time spent planning the new space. There’s more of that work to be done, but the doctors are looking forward to the chance to reinvent their practice. “I look at it in a good way,” Dr. Zollinger says. “This is all ours now.”

WO spoke with Dr. Brown and Dr. Zollinger in 2015 about their practice and the remodel of their optical. Click here to read that story.

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