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Keystone Community Church, Ada, Michigan

Taking An Innovative Stand on Stewardship

Keystone’s warm atmosphere extends into their sanctuary, where the earth-toned theme continues. Remarkably comfortable Steelcase Cachet seating can be easily reconfigured into any arrangement, and even sofas are available for service-goers arriving early enough to claim them.

Among Christians today, there is much said about “stewardship.” That nothing we possess is really our own, but rather it all belongs to God and we are merely caretakers. We may tithe and use our finances to help those less fortunate. And perhaps we see our time and talents as gifts we’ve been given, so we take care to spend these resources wisely for the Kingdom’s sake as well.

But while you put money in the Sunday basket for African orphans, or spend a Saturday at the local food bank, are you recycling your plastics? Are you conserving natural resources by carpooling and using fluorescent bulbs? Do you even consider good ecology and being environmentally sensitive a form of stewardship?

If you attend Keystone Community Church in Ada, Michigan, your answer to this question would be a resounding, “Yes!” In fact, the Keystone community so embraces the concept of environmental stewardship that they decided to become the first LEED-certified church in the nation. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, or LEED, was originally developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit coalition of business leaders. It provides a recognized standard for the construction industry to assess the environmental sustainability of building designs. In other words, Keystone has created a facility that in its very construction and function gives honor and thanks to the Creator.

Environmental Culpability
“We believe our planet is a gift from God and continuing to make an environmental mess of it does not say thank you’ to the Giver,” asserts Keystone’s Lead Pastor, Gene DeJong. “Doing what we can to protect and honor His gift does and LEED allowed us a new venue to say thanks.” So what did becoming LEED-certified entail? Frankly, it was an intense process that had to begin with a dedicated commitment from the core design-build group, including church leadership, lead designers from Integrated Architecture of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the general contractor, Rockford Construction, also based in Grand Rapids. And it involved lots and lots of paperwork. According to DeJong, “We invested about $30,000 in documentation and processing that went into the accreditation process. But our leadership team agreed that without this motivation, we may have opted for value-engineering options that would go against our intention of being a green building.” (It must be noted that, ultimately, there is enough significant savings with regard to energy usage and efficiency to warrant the process cost-neutral.)

According to Scott Vyn, LEED Accredited Professional (AP), a senior designer with Integrated Architecture, “LEED provides a framework so that every design discussion and every construction meeting has LEED on the agenda. It was a constant topic, just like the budget or the schedule.” And that commitment to stay on course has been worth every penny, discussion, and painstaking attention to detail. Everything from how the building is positioned on its 35-acre site to using recycled building materials and low-flow water fixtures contributes to a structure that not only functions with the utmost efficiency, but rises from its foundation with surprising beauty and elegance.

LEEDing the Way
Site planning was the first component of facility design, and each decision was based upon LEED. “Sustainable strategies included siting the structure in an existing field near a wooded north boundary which helps protect the auditorium and adjacent common and classroom spaces from the prevailing winter winds, while creating an intimate connection with the seasonal beauty of the trees,” explains Trisha Spaulding, public relations director for Integrated Architecture. Moreover, because the building and parking lot are set on open high ground in the middle of the heavily wooded site, designers avoided significant tree clearing and retained a natural buffer between the church and adjacent neighborhoods. The land supporting the building was also finessed through the construction process to idealize storm-water management, erosion, and sedimentation control, efforts that minimize the environmental impact of the surrounding areas.

When it came to designing the building itself, Pastor DeJong aspired for something different from a typical church facility. “We have a slogan here that Keystone is for people who don’t necessarily like church, but are curious about the God stuff .’ As a result, we wanted the facility to elicit a positive response of, Wow, this is not what I would have expected from a church!’”

In fact, with its broad front porch and two-story clear glass views into the inviting foyer, the building’s exterior more closely resembles a modern art museum or performing arts center than a church. Because Keystone’s mission statement involves “encouraging spiritually inquisitive friends in their next step with Christ,” the structure evokes an embracing sense of community and refreshing comfort an aspect church leadership relishes. “We don’t want our facility to get in the way of the spiritual journey or remind people about the church they might have attended as a child (and clearly have opted not to return to),” asserts DeJong. Once inside the bright and airy entrance, Keystone’s facility is all about conservation and recycling. “Our designers were encouraged to be creative with materials, textures, and color all while maintaining their sustainable focus,” Spaulding says. “We introduced exterior building products as interior elements, minimizing the use of materials and reducing the amount of finishes.” No detail was missed. There is stained concrete flooring with radiant perimeter heat and pre-cast, expandable auditorium panels. All the paints and finishes used were low-VOC products in order to minimize air-quality impact. Low-flow fixtures and water-free urinals further contribute to the facility’s efficiency. And not only do the materials and design reflect respect for the environment, the environment responds by reaching back into the facility to touch the souls of those inside: Every occupied space offers exterior views in one or more direction, flooding the spaces with natural light and fresh air.

Passion For the Earth, for Change, for God
In terms of the project’s key players, there existed an underlying motivation shared by all: passion. Because LEED accreditation is a long and challenging process, it cannot be undertaken lightly or without intense commitment.

As for Integrated Architecture, they believe in sustainable design whether or not a client requests it. Vyn asserts, “We’ve created standard policies and procedures that weave sustainability throughout every project. We’ve proven that sustainable design is cost- neutral, and simply the right thing to do for our clients and for our planet.”

Likewise, Rockford Construction, the general contractor and LEED coordinator for the entire process, had their own passion to succeed. According to Ken Bailey, executive vice president at Rockford, “Rockford has several employees involved in the project who are also members of the church. So taking this vision to reality was very important to our company. Seeing this through to certification and having it recognized as the first LEED-certified church in the world was huge from a personal standpoint and as an employee of Rockford.”

And you can bet that Pastor DeJong, as well as the entire staff and congregation of Keystone, possessed passion for this project. They not only committed to the process from its conceptual beginnings, but also had the tenacity and dedication to see it through during the design and construction phases, always checking each decision against the higher purpose of stewardship.

Even today, two years after project completion and a year post-certification, the community continues to honor God with their facility. They’ve incorporated signage to describe to visitors the purpose behind the unique building design and the LEED program. They encourage commuting alternatives, such as biking and carpooling (there are even electric car outlets in the parking lot). The motion-sensitive and timed lighting throughout also demonstrates resource efficiency to all those who move about the building. And, of course, you cannot help but notice the ubiquitous recycling bins and signage. Even the cleaning solutions used during housekeeping efforts reflect the sustainability efforts and minimize the environmental impact of chemicals that may harm church staff, members, and the larger community.

Keystone Community Church has taken the Biblical command to be “good stewards” to a new level. As in most Christian churches, the church leadership does promote the joyful giving of financial resources. They invite missionaries to speak and move the congregation to take action and help the cause. And they do encourage making time for community outreach. But with their unique “green” facility and practices, they are also honoring and protecting the earth and its resources that God has given over to us as caretakers. So, yes, at Keystone, they’ll also remind you to recycle that can of soda.

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