Affordable Church Renovation: Closing The Gap with New Life

Abandoned and vacant for ten years, an old automotive dealership gets new life to bring generations together.

On the side of a busy thoroughfare located in Newport, Tennessee stood a non-descript, faded building overgrown with weeds and surrounded by a crumbling parking lot.

Developed mid-1960 as a Chevrolet auto dealership, the structure had changed owners several times, serving a variety of automotive businesses.

The building and lot had become an eyesore. However, in the eyes of Memorial Baptist Church leadership it looked like an opportunity to reinvent the property as a new facility to call home. With no real expectation for acquiring the property, the church made a bid for an amount they could afford about half of its estimated worth.

On auction day, several large developers surprisingly failed to make a bid on the property, and the church gratefully became the properties' new owner. Memorial Baptist Church was originally founded in 2010 as a new church plant in the town of Newport under the leadership of Rev. Harold Ball. Their first service was held in Newport's Memorial building.

After that first meeting the town's fire Marshall condemned the structure, but the name stuck. Soon after acquiring their new property, Memorial Baptist engaged Studio Four Design of Knoxville, Tenn. to work on transforming the derelict building into one that would give new life as a home for their church body.

At approximately 15,200sf, the building was comprised of an auto showroom, several business offices, restrooms and a large space for vehicle repair. Stacy Cox, principal and director of business development with Studio Four Design recalls, "The church was intentional about not wanting this building to look too modern, at the same time they didn't want it to look too old fashioned. Instead they envisioned a transitional ministry to bridge   the gap between traditional Baptist church models and contemporary church models one that would appeal to younger generations."

Displayed in the renovation are design elements which reflect a transitional model. Located over the entryway is a prominent and unique steeple. "There are a lot of steeple manufacturers out there that make prefab steeples. You can get very modern to very traditional styles. We found one that we felt perfectly met the aesthetics of the building's transitional design concept.

We added parapet walls to conceal the low gabled roof of the former showroom and clad these walls in brick and limestone. We carried these materials into the new church entrance and around the front of the building which allowed us to tie it all together," tells Cox. Since the existing asymmetrical layout of the building dictated a design that was more contemporary than traditional layouts, Studio Four Design chose exterior materials and detailing to create the desired transitional aesthetic.

Katie Moran, project manager with Studio Four Design says, "The exterior of the building was updated to reflect the church's brand and identity. We did this by using traditional materials such as limestone and brick applied in ways to reflect a more transitional design. "The existing orange brick and grey metal panels were painted to match the new brick and stone. These choices of material and color are very warm and inviting, but also hide the fact that this building once was an auto dealership."

Furthermore, new exterior wall construction was designed to be more energy efficient to help create a functional and insulated interior environment. A new roof was installed to complete the transformation. Repairing and reusing existing metal panels also served to reduced overall project costs. An all new 400sf main entry was constructed to provide a key circulation connection and focal point for the building. "When you walk in it has a sort of warmth of being at home.

There's a lot of light in there. It's not an imposing space and the scale is very comfortable so people feel welcomed and not overwhelmed, notes Moran. "Two circulation spines were established to divide the key spaces and simplify wayfinding in the building," she explains.

What was once the existing showroom portion of the building is now three new adult classrooms. Existing offices and restrooms were transformed into a nursery and four children's classrooms all within close proximity to the worship center.

The former auto repair bay portion of the building, a very large area with high ceilings was divided into three spaces for use as lobby, worship and fellowship. The first part connected to the new entry and provided an extension for the new lobby and an entrance to the worship center. Cox shares, "The auditorium doesn't have any windows.

Since they use quite a bit of video they wanted to reduce ambient light sources to control light levels. There weren't any windows in the auto repair bay to begin with so we didn't have to add anything, we just closed that up." The white box style auditorium provides seating for 350, a stage, choir loft, baptistry and backstage support/utility spaces.

Behind that a fellowship/multi-purpose area was created for recreation, meals and other assembly events. Improvements made to the overall site range from repaving the existing parking lot to new sidewalks and a concrete plaza that provide a distinct entryway. Landscaping and reseeding served to update the property.

"All of this work was accomplished for a construction cost of $1,061,000 which translates into $68.00/sf, approximately half of what this project would cost had it been all new construction on an undeveloped site," tells Cox and concludes, "By renovating this building not only did Memorial Baptist provide a new home and identity for their ministry, they were able to take a property that had been run down and useless and restore it to a new life with a Kingdom building purpose."

TAGS: Design
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