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Is Repurposing Existing Space a Good Solution for Your Growing Church?

Is Repurposing Existing Space a Good Solution for Your Growing Church?

A new building or addition is not always the only answer to meet space needs

I recently visited a church that is experiencing a huge attendance increase in [its] youth ministry program. As often seen, the increase is also having a positive impact in other age-specific ministry groups at the church. In addition to these students their parents and siblings are becoming involved in small groups and other church activities. After having been at the same church just a few years ago it was exciting to walk through the youth space, which is an older building on the campus, and literally feel that this space is no longer underutilized or somewhat forgotten. I saw tidy spaces with photos and posters and activity calendars on the cleverly decorated walls and I knew that this ministry is serious and it is moving forward with a mission to satisfy a vital need of the church. The truth is that they are thriving and they are doing so in an older building. Obviously, this is due to the vision of the church and the passion of the ministers for their programs while leading this group of students. The building itself certainly is in need of improvements and modifications in order to provide a more safe and more comfortable environment. This story is not uncommon and most churches will eventually experience a similar situation as time goes by.

Does your church need to provide a real solution for a very critical space need? If so, does it seem as though every space within the existing facilities is dedicated to another group or function? You might have a situation where a new building or addition may not be a possibility. Honestly, a new building or addition is not always the only answer to meet space needs. With some help and planning you may find another option just down the hall. For architects and engineers assessing, programming and planning for the repurposing of existing spaces, [the task] can provide an interesting and challenging problem that can and must be solved. For ministry leaders and lay leaders this can also provide a problem that would require a great deal of time away from more important needs and issues at their church. Some may say, “This is a good problem to have,” but it is a problem nonetheless and it can create a huge dilemma.

Looking ahead, envisioning space

Upon deciding that a new facility is not an option for one reason or another the first question leadership might ask is: does space exist that can be utilized somehow? Sometimes this question can be answered easily, while at other times the answer may not be so obvious. A thorough facility assessment and space programming effort with an architect and their consulting engineers could result in creative opportunities that might not have been thought of otherwise.

Let’s assume that a need has been realized as a result of growth or the start of a new ministry program. Additional space will be of primary importance to continue forward. Working with an architect to truly understand how spaces are being utilized in your existing facility might offer insight and a few surprises. It is important to understand that everyone on [an architect’s] team doesn’t know the ministry assignment, floor area and the number of people in attendance of each space for each hour of church activities. An architect will be able to help you collect that information, though, and assemble [it] in a way that will allow you and your team to make the decisions that are important as you move forward.

Following the data collection effort, the architect will be able focus on the development of the space-programming model. From the programming model an understanding of the current and projected needs should be easily conveyed. If through programming it appears that space should exist that could be utilized, a plan must be developed to create the availability of the space needed while meeting the needs of all other ministries. During this process the design team should complete a physical assessment of the spaces. In addition to the actual space needed, [a design team] should determine adequacy and availability of all utilities, including power, HVAC, water and sewer. Will special lighting or equipment be needed by the ministry that will require a power source greater than what is available?

Considering all the angles

Robbie Rahn, P.E., department head for electrical engineering at CDH Partners, reports that existing spaces are more restrictive with regard to modifications of the existing electrical design. Unlike a new building, existing buildings are defined by what the existing electrical service is and what loads are currently being served. To manage the electrical budget, the electrical engineer and owner must perform careful planning and coordination.

Third party consultants such as audio/visual and theater lighting/rigging firms must also be brought on board early in the planning and design stages. There are many devices that require special power, control and heat rejection requirements that need to be coordinated with the electrical and mechanical engineers.

It must be confirmed whether or not [the building’s] existing HVAC is adequate for new heat loads created by people, lighting and equipment. According to CDH’s William Loeffel, P.E., this is something that needs careful consideration. Consider the conversion of a group of classrooms into a youth theater, for instance. It is more than a simple matter of knocking down walls. Each new student you are hoping to reach generates about the same amount of heat as a 120-Watt light bulb. In addition to the heat produced by all of the new students, imagine doubling or tripling the amount of outside air delivered on a typical summer day (as is required by current codes). Can the existing air conditioning handle this projected load?

A renovation may also be the perfect opportunity to make much needed improvements to the building systems. Areas with poor comfort, objectionable noise, and unacceptable maintenance and energy costs should be investigated. Even if these areas cannot be improved during the immediate renovations, this information is highly useful in planning for future improvements.

Other questions, such as [ones] related to plumbing needs, should also be addressed. Will new baptistry units, convenience sinks, utility sinks, or restroom facilities need to be added to the space(s)? Additionally, are changes to the existing structure necessary for the optimum use of the existing space? Existing load-bearing walls could result in restrictions on what changes might be possible if they are not in an ideal location for the new use.

In addition to the items above, any time that a space or element in an existing building is modified all of the new work is required to meet all codes. This may result in upgrades or modifications to fire alarm systems [or] sprinkler systems, [for example].

It isn’t uncommon that taking over an existing space(s) will result in a domino effect of finding a new home for one or more ministries. The architect will be able to develop a plan for these ministries, and then the challenge of getting everyone to accept the change will have to be completed by the church building committee.

Many churches are very creative in how they use their facilities, squeezing every square inch of usable space into active mode. If you aren’t sure but you have a feeling that with a little creative thinking, adequate finances and some hard work you might be able to provide space for the next ministry need that arises through the repurposing of existing spaces, follow up with an architect [is in order]. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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