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July 29, 2021
In recent years, a growing movement of people have started turning from large commercial pharmacies to apothecaries or compounding pharmacies. These smaller, often independently operated pharmacies offer a greater degree of personalization than retail pharmacies, including customized dosages based on age, height, weight, as well as choice of medication form pill, liquid or powder.
These and other forms of supplements are all made on site, using the highest quality ingredients, and are tested for potency and purity. Compounding pharmacies can include specialized spaces such as high-tech sterile labs, treatment rooms and retail.
Gig Harbor recently experienced the opening of Harbor Health and Apothecary, a locally owned compounding pharmacy in the historic downtown core, inside a former bank building. Gig Harbor based fi architecture designed the renovation, which transformed the 60-year-old structure into a state-of-the-art pharmacy that meets rigorous federal standards for sterile and non-sterile compounding labs.
“The Washington State Department of Health said that Harbor Health and Apothecary is one of the best designed facilities with one of the most robust written protocols they have ever seen,” said co-founder and CEO Conrad Esser.
It was clear from the project’s start that both Esser and co-founder and chief pharmacy officer Nicholas Wyatt wanted a facility that was more welcoming and visible to the community. They wanted to put the process of compounding on display. By working closely with Esser, Wyatt and a specialty HVAC engineer, fi architecture was able to balance the adaptive reuse of the building with the functionality of the pharmacy, while creating an inviting and transparent open space for customers.
Harbor Health is the only sterile and non-sterile 503A compounding facility in the South Puget Sound. Each prescription is tailor made to an individual, rather than bulk produced like at other pharmacies. At the center of the building is the main pharmacy suite, composed of a general pharmacy, two sterile labs, one non-sterile lab and associated rooms for gowning and prep.
“All of Harbor Health’s lab spaces were designed to exceed current and future state and federal regulatory standards, which ensures patients and providers are working with a pharmacy that has longevity,” said Wyatt.
The main pharmacy is completely transparent through large glass partitions, allowing patrons to see the pharmacists at work using the wide variety of specialty equipment. Custom designed and built casework was utilized to provide sufficient storage of materials and efficient work layout. Just off the main pharmacy are anterooms that connect to two smaller sterile labs where the most sensitive of ingredients are processed. With eight pass-through chambers in the partition walls, pharmacists can transfer sterile products between spaces.
Harbor Health also includes small treatment rooms where the pharmacists can have private consultations with patients. These rooms are equipped similar to a doctor’s exam room allowing for shots and IV treatments to be administered on site. Professional providers can also lease these treatment rooms. At Harbor Health, these rooms are entered through a foyer to the side of the main entry, ensuring they are discreet.
Certified sterile lab spaces have extensive technical requirements, the most challenging of which is maintaining very high levels of indoor air quality, which means dedicated ductwork, increased rates of air exchange, and medical-grade HEPA filters.
“The day-to-day operations at Harbor Health place a heavy demand on mechanical systems, and the specialized certifications of the lab spaces required very specific design elements,” said fi architecture senior project manager Stephen Black. “Everything had to coordinate well on the project, for example the size of the HVAC units were significant in regard to the building’s profile.”
Not only were the lab HVAC units larger than standard units, they needed to be located away from public spaces to minimize noise. In addition, the project had to meet city of Gig Harbor design guidelines while respecting the building’s original mid-century roofline. We realized the solution was to locate the units on the lid of the existing concrete bank vault, which was 18 inches thick and located underneath the existing roof structure. By placing the units here, only 4 feet in height was needed above the original roof line, plus the concrete serves to dampen the noise and vibration.
The building’s history as a bank meant that except for a few columns the building’s interior was relatively open. This allowed for the retail and waiting areas to have unobstructed views into the lab space. The retail area displays the supplements that are being made in the lab. Low shelving was utilized to keep the feeling of openness.
The waiting area features a gas fireplace alongside comfortable couches. You can also see the remains of the night drop from the building’s days as a bank. Bookshelves showcase resources for customers as well as historic photos of the building and surrounding area.
Harbor Health occupies most of the 5,000 square feet, but there was extra space adjacent to the old bank drive-thru. The fi architecture team brainstormed with Esser, and they came up with the idea to create a taproom. Hop Pharm Taproom turned the original drive-thru into a beautiful outdoor covered seating area, selling craft beer, cider and wine. This keeps the building buzzing hours after the pharmacy closes.
“We were able to create a beautiful community green area with sidewalks and open space, taking a vacant property and reinvigorating it,” said fi architecture senior architectural associate Jennifer Butler. “Harbor Health and Hop Pharm turned a high traffic corner into a destination for the community to gather.”
Harbor Health and Apothecary has only been open for a few short months, but the pharmacy is already welcoming business from doctors, naturopaths, veterinarians, nutritionists and more in the South Sound. As compounding pharmacies continue to gain popularity, Harbor Health is poised to expand on its current successes, especially with its exceptional team in an innovative facility.
Darrin Filand is a member of the city of Gig Harbor design review board since 2006 and is founder and senior principal at fi architecture.