Major healthcare facilities are not only being planned for humans in the greater Princeton area, but also for their pets. At the same time that Princeton Hospital and Capital Health System are constructing modern suburban hospitals, in Plainsboro and in Hopewell, an area construction company is getting ready to build two large, state-of-the-art veterinary hospitals.

Sweetwater Construction, a Cranbury-based construction, management, and general contracting company, has experience with projects involving caring for sick humans, and has announced that it is broadening its expertise to include animal hospitals.

“We’ve built 12 ambulatory surgery centers in the past three years,” says Ronald Witt Sr., president of the 20-year-old company. Building on that experience the company has a new sub-specialty. It has recently been awarded contracts for construction management services of two large animal hospitals.

The first is the $3.5 million, 10,500-square-foot Winslow Animal Hospital, a section of the Camden County community of Winslow Township. The hospital, which is expected to open in September 2009, will be the largest non-specialty animal hospital in the southern part of the state.

Closer to home, Sweetwater has been awarded the contract for a $9 million, 33,000-square-foot veterinary specialty and emergency trauma center in Robbinsville. The center, the name of which has not been determined, will replace the existing 5,200-square-foot Veterinary Surgical and Diagnostic Specialists facility in Millstone Township. Work is due to begin in the spring of 2009 on the hospital, which will be located at 315 Robbinsville-Allentown Road. The facility is scheduled to open in May, 2010.

“It’s a pretty unique facility,” says Witt of the Robbinsville veterinary hospital. “It’s 27,000 square feet.” There is nothing like it in the area, with the possible exception of the University of Pennsylvania animal hospital. It will include the latest technology, including a linear accelerator, a machine that uses photon energy beams to treat cancer.

The Robbinsville animal hospital’s range of specialties will include surgery, internal medicine, ophthalmology, oncology, radiology, dermatology, emergency care, critical care, cardiology, complementary therapies, and much more. The hospital will be fully staffed and prepared to admit emergency cases around-the-clock, seven days a week, and provide critical care in a specialized intensive care unit.

The architect for both facilities was Jeffrey L. Grogan of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, who specializes in veterinary facilities.

Healthcare, for both humans and animals, now makes up about 30 percent of Sweetwater’s business. No sector is immune from the economic downturn, but Witt says that healthcare is a bright spot for his firm.

Coping with the recession, Witt, a graduate of the Naval Academy (Class of 1966), and a former Navy pilot, says that he has “battened down the hatches.”

There has been some downsizing, taking his firm from a high of 80 employees down to about 65. In addition, he has found ways to cut expenses, while, at the same time, getting his jobs done.

An example involves having his subcontractors cross industry lines in some cases. “We have been a commercial firm,” says Witt, “but we got into residential a short time ago.” This occurred when an existing client asked for help in finishing up some 80 to 100 homes in five or six developments. While working on these projects, Witt realized that using residential subcontractors, who often work at a lower rate than do commercial subcontractors, could cut costs.

The “judicial blending” of the two groups of subcontractors is bringing “cost savings and value,” says Witt.

Sweetwater, which does a lot of work with biotechs and small to mid-sized pharmaceutical companies in addition to its healthcare work, still has a “reasonable backlog of projects,” but is feeling the recession, says Witt.

With luck this will be one company that will not go to the dogs, but rather will get a boost from them — and from cats, canaries, and potbelly pigs as well.

Sweetwater Construction Corp., 269 Prospect Plains Road, Cranbury 08512; 609-655-3332; fax, 609-655-0062. Ronald C. Witt Sr., president.

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