You know the old adage, "if you're going to do something halfway, don't do it at all"? Bruce Bonafiglia, CDT, certainly took that advice to heart when designing and building BonaDent Dental Laboratories' new, 35,000-sq.-ft. facility in Seneca Falls, New York. The shiny steel building, set in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, has it all—for technicians and dentists alike. "My objective was to attract and retain the best—and that means technicians and dentists," says Bonafiglia, owner of the 93-employee laboratory. "This facility was built with both in mind."
Two years in the planning, the laboratory was completed in seven months—and relatively smoothly, too—most likely because Bonafiglia was heavily involved in the design and construction. "I'm a frustrated architect," he says, "with a good memory for building and details. Everything you see here is a design element I've seen somewhere else."
During the planning stages, Bonafiglia visited and talked to other laboratory owners who had built new facilities, and also interviewed several architects to find the one who would be most receptive to the vision he had for the building. Last month, LMT got to see the result of that vision; now we invite you on a "virtual tour" so you can see it, too.
Visitors to the BonaDent facility enter a dramatic, expansive lobby area. Just when you're starting to wonder if you actually are in a dental laboratory, you see the BonaDent logo emblazoned on the wall behind the front desk. A 46-inch, flat screen monitor welcomes visitors by name, displays the laboratory's mission statement, shares historical trivia and announces staff birthdays.
If you're a patient who has come to the laboratory for a custom shade, you can sit in a separate waiting area off of the lobby which has couches, a television and a refrigerator stocked with cold drinks. Those with small children are invited to let them wait in the laboratory's daycare center; older children are given "Angelo Bucks" to buy snacks at Angelo's Café, the lab's in-house restaurant. Adjacent to this waiting area is the custom shade room with a dental chair and artwork depicting antiquated dental restorations.
If you're visiting the laboratory in the morning, you'll likely hear the daily announcements over the public address system, usually done by Laboratory Coordinator Cathy Johnson. But on Fridays, like today, Bonafiglia does them himself. He includes 73rd birthday wishes to his father, lab founder Angelo Bonafiglia; the daily specials at Angelo's Café; some good-natured ribbing; and congratulations to the laboratory staff for bringing in 11 new clients in the past week alone. And then a reminder: "We have visitors today. No swearing," he quips.
The Production Facility
The laboratory is very bright—lots of large windows look out onto the property's manicured landscape and man-made lakes. It's also extremely spacious; in some areas there's as much as eight feet between benches. "Given how crowded we were in our previous facility, we purposely planned for extra space. We all appreciate the more comfortable, open feeling," says Bonafiglia.
With 130 workstations and 60 technicians, the laboratory is designed with growth in mind. Technicians were heavily involved in the choice of workstations. "A few different manufacturers brought benches to the laboratory so that technicians could 'test-drive' them; we eventually chose KaVo's because of the quiet, economical suction system and the fact that the bench height could be modified," says Robert Cerza, general manager. "We also valued the company's overall support and service and the reputation it has among dentists."
Technicians also worked together on configuring the workstations to best suit their department's work style. For example, in the denture department, benches are arranged linearly so that work is easily passed from one to another. The C&B department wanted triangular clusters to enhance communication. Some of the benches include teardrop-shaped tables so that technicians have a space to meet and discuss cases. "I involved technicians because their comfort is critical," says Bonafiglia. "This facility has a lot of wonderful amenities, but—let's face it—it's their private workspaces that are most important to them," says Bonafiglia.
Mindful of other ways to facilitate communication, the lab was designed so that the different departments flow into one another, rather than have them be physically separate as they were in BonaDent's previous building. Also, all department managers have their own offices, which surround a common meeting area where morning production meetings are held.
Noise-producing equipment, such as denture processing units, are isolated in separate rooms for a quieter, more esthetic environment. In another room, you'll find BonaDent's Advanced Team: a group of five technicians who service about 15 clients who pay a premium—up to twice the laboratory's regular fees—for extra attention and case planning on implant and other complex cases.
This state-of-the-art training facility is an integral part of the laboratory's educational arm, the Finger Lakes Center for Advanced Dentistry, and is also used for training BonaDent technicians. Four dental operatories are set against a wall of windows; there are also 12 hands-on stations equipped with dental simulators—"dummy" patients on which each dentist-participant can work intraorally.
The trainer or seminar presenter has his own station equipped with a camera that projects his technique to a computer screen at each hands-on station. Or, he can wear a lightweight camera strapped to his head so that participants can get an even closer view, especially when he's working intraorally. The camera images can also be projected into the auditorium or conference room.
Imagine having a SuperBowl party here! (In fact, Bonafiglia did just that last January.) Used for presentations, laboratory meetings, and even for screening movies for the children in the lab's daycare center, the 90-seat auditorium is equipped with a theater-quality sound system. Other features include video and audio taping capabilities, a sound-proof projection room so there's no distraction to the audience and a touchtone remote so that the presenter can control the DVD, VCR, three slide projectors and even the thermostat from his position in the front of the room. There's even pre-set, one-touch lighting so that he can simply touch "slide show" to dim the lights or "panel discussion" to bring the house lights up.
At the in-house restaurant named after the laboratory's founder, you can peruse the breakfast or lunch menu or select one of the daily specials. There's also a beverage cooler, a selection of baked goods and a candy counter. There's seating for about 100 people, with additional tables set outside, overlooking a lake and fountains. In addition to offering a full service dining room for employees, the café is used for luncheons during seminars or for holding birthday or holiday parties for the BonaDent staff. An added convenience: employees say Angelo's is perfect for grabbing take-out for dinner.
Fitness Center/Aerobics Room
If you want to work off lunch, try the treadmills, stair-stepping machines and weight machines at the laboratory's fitness center—which is free to all employees. In a separate aerobics room, employees can participate in a class held three times a week or use the VCR for exercise or yoga tapes. This room is also used as a substitute employee dining room when seminar participants or other visitors are lunching in Angelo's Café; in those cases, the staff is treated to free drinks and meals to make up for the "inconvenience."
Adjacent to the fitness center is a hair salon—operated by a barber once a week and a hair stylist twice a week—where employees can pay to get their hair cut during breaks or lunch. (Today, one-year-old Liam, son of technicians Adina and Andy Chambers, is getting his hair cut during his mom's lunch break). There's also a tanning bed and a massage room—where the lab offered free massages during last year's Great American Smoke Out, a nationwide, annual event that encourages smokers to give up their habit at least for the day.
The luxurious conference room has seating for 18 and two 46-inch flat plasma monitors on the wall for showing computer-generated presentations, videos or live feed from the training room or auditorium. The room is often used when smaller groups visit, such as regional study group meetings or dental office staff training.
The Learning Tree
Ready for some real fun? Shown to the right is the laboratory's 3,000-sq.-ft., in-house daycare center, which provides full-time care for children between the ages of six weeks and five years, as well as an after-school program for older kids. One-third of The Learning Tree's 24 students are children of BonaDent employees; other slots are filled by children from the community, although some are left open to ensure that there is always availability for employees' children. Run by Director Daniele Bonafiglia, the cost of the service is $90 a week per child for employees and $130 for non-employees.
Video cameras are installed in the daycare facility and parents who work outside the laboratory can access real-time footage over the daycare's website so they can check on their children during the day. Another added benefit: once a month, representatives from nearby Cornell University present free, after-hours training for parents at the daycare center, covering topics such as nutrition, discipline and children's self-esteem. Bonafiglia included the daycare center in plans for the new facility because he felt it was important to address the working-parent dilemma of finding affordable, quality daycare, as well as to satisfy parents' desire to spend more time with their children. "The beauty of having onsite daycare is that employees can visit during breaks or have lunch with their kids," he says.
Employees who use the facility agree and say that knowing their children are safe and nearby is a significant stress reliever. "And it's not just a babysitting service; there's a real emphasis on education. In fact, my son learned sign language," says Scott Johnson, ceramic department manager, whose son attended daycare full-time last year and now goes to the after-school program. "It's one of the best things that has happened to this laboratory."
It's Got Personality
As you tour through BonaDent, eventually you realize that what's even more compelling than the physical structure is the enthusiasm that's pervasive throughout the lab. Greeted as you walk through the hallways by various employees clad in BonaDent shirts or smocks, you often learn that one employee is related to another you met earlier, or that he or she is a childhood friend of the Bonafiglia family.
That enthusiasm emanates from the Bonafiglia family itself; here, everyone gets a chance to use their strengths to grow the family business. Bruce has been in the industry since he was five, earning 10 cents an hour to clean flasks and run errands in his father's two-person denture laboratory. Angelo—who is officially retired but obviously still passionate about the work and the laboratory itself—comes in most days to fill in where needed (unless it's wintertime, when he can often be found at BonaDent in Melbourne, Florida, owned by his daughter, Andrea.)
Bruce's brother, Curtis, is a psychologist who is responsible for personnel development and management training at the laboratory; Bruce's wife, Lisa, is special events coordinator. As mentioned earlier, his daughter, Daniele, is the director of the daycare center and her mother, Bruce's ex-wife, Diane, is the laboratory's comptroller.
Visiting with the family members, you sense their obvious affection for each other; their jovial banter makes you feel as though you're just one more relative joining them for Sunday dinner. In fact, there's a high priority placed on making everyone feel like a part of the family. "A long time ago, my sister Andrea taught me the importance of taking care of your internal customers as well as your external ones," says Bonafiglia. "That's become integral to the way I run this laboratory because I want my staff to know that I appreciate what they do. They truly built this lab."
To remind employees of just that, there's a sign they see every time they leave the lab's parking lot: thank you for helping BonaDent grow.