(The following article about Hiawatha native Brad Robért first appeared in the Oct. 8 issue of the Concordia Blade-Empire and is being reprinted with permission.)
The gray building at 206 East 17th Street, behind the Arby’s restaurant, has seen many incarnations in its life. It was built in the 1950s by the Corps of Engineers as an armory for the National Guard, one of the first to exist in Kansas. Decades later it was used by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), and then it was a commercial storage facility for many years.
In December of 2020, Robért Investments purchased the building. Eight months later, it is now a two-bedroom efficiency apartment and home to a state-of-the-art CrossFit gym.
“We had been looking for a place for veterinary interns,” said Brad Robért, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) at Tallgrass Veterinary Hospital. “We looked at several houses, but then CrossFit needed a space too, so it call came together.”
Brad and his wife Mallory began remodeling the facility in early-2021.
“We started cutting concrete February 6,” said Mallory. “It was all done in six months.”
As a DVM, Brad is passionate about helping veterinary students gain hands-on experience.
“Fourth-year veterinary students are required to do what’s called an externship,” he said. “Tallgrass Hospital is a great place for them to get hands-on experience.”
Similar to internships, externships are learning opportunities provided by partnerships between educational institutions and employers to give students practical experiences in their field of study.
“At Tallgrass we have four doctors and a support staff with a lot of experience. We’re a full-service clinic with a lot of equipment and a lot of cases. It’s a great learning opportunity for students.”
“In our lives,” Mallory said, “Brad and I both had people come forward and provide education opportunities that helped us succeed. We want to do the same.”
Fourth-year vet students would rotate in on a three-to-four week basis, working with the doctors at Tallgrass.
“Med school is expensive, and renting a hotel room for three or four weeks can be cost prohibitive,” Brad said. “Now we’ve got a place for them to stay while they gain hands-on experience.
Robért has reached out to veterinary schools at Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, and others.
“Ideally, we’ll have students rotating in throughout the year, but especially during our busy time in the spring and fall.”
There are two furnished bedrooms in the facility, with a common room, efficiency kitchen, a bathroom and shower, and washer and dryer. A second-floor mezzanine overlooks the expansive, 3,200 square foot CrossFit gymnasium. A section of the building is also used as a storage facility.
“Brad did a lot of the work himself,” Mallory said.
Brad grinned and said, “I’m self-taught, out of necessity.”
The Robérts brought in Hood Heating & Air to do all the code work.
“Garret Hood and his team were great,” Mallory said. “And we really want to thank all the volunteers who came and helped. We couldn’t have done this without them.”