KEENE, N.H. For many churches, the decision tied to moving forward on improvements to their worship space is often borne out of having held off from any such changes for many years.
With the 125th anniversary for St. Bernard Church and the Parish of the Holy Spirit just months away Nov. 20 the church that opened in 1892 is in the midst of finishing up on a five-phase renovation. The work has involved various upgrades and improvements, including to the church's audio and lighting capabilities.
With those major changes to the audio system, Marcoux said that he has heard a "better quality to the singing and those who are cantoring."
As part of its second phase completed shortly before Christmas of last year, the church added a pair of double-stacked Bose Panaray MA12 column speakers near the front of the church.
In addition, St. Bernard also invested in three earset microphones by Sennheiser, one each for Rev. Stephen Marcoux, pastor of St. Bernard, and his two pastoral colleagues. To help with providing clarity for cantors and lectors, a Sennheiser microphone replaced the previous lectern microphone. Each is run through a wireless Sennheiser Ew 100 G3 system.
With those major changes to the audio system, Marcoux said that he has heard a "better quality to the singing and those who are cantoring. That's because the microphone is clear and the speakers are clear. Everyone says the system is much clearer."
The work to the audio system was done by Power Sound of New England, based in Kittery, Maine. "They were very accommodating. I also trusted their judgment (when selecting Bose and Sennheiser), as they've been doing this for years," noted Marcoux. The company and Marcoux have worked together previously, at four other parishes. Power Sound will be returning for additional work in the fall, during the renovation's final phase, to install speakers in the church hall. "I have nothing but the highest respect for their workmanship," he added.
Changing to the Bose column speakers was a significant upgrade, explained Marcoux. The previous system "had been Mickey Moused over the years, where they had to redo the system entirely. It had been an old-fashioned system pieced together over the last 30 years. I'm very pleased about the quality, and the acoustics are exceptional."
Dimming System, LED Lights Highlight Upgrade
In addition to the audio improvements, completed in about a week, St. Bernard also underwent significant lighting upgrades in its worship space. That work was much more extensive, as LighTec, based in Merrimack, New Hampshire, evaluated the wiring, changed out the wiring (from the dangerously low limit of 100 amps to 400 amps), and converted each chandelier to LED lighting.
One of the most notable benefits to that change, noted Marcoux, was that "we won't have to change the bulbs for 25 years," adding that "the lighting is gorgeous."
LighTec was also charged with lowering and raising each chandelier. The company then sent them to East Kingston, New Hampshire-based Acu-Bright, to be stripped of its aging, faded paint. The final step involved Acu-Bright repainting each light during a three-month restoration process.
"That was the hardest part," said Peter Mikolajczuk, LighTec's Sales and Operations Manager. "I was the one personally (raising and lowering the lights). It was 50 pounds (for each of them). I had to lift or lower each of them multiple times I got a good workout in."
Once the lights were completely restored, Marcoux said, "As far as the lights, people could not see before. That's because they were so dirty. Now they are so bright, and they can see the brightness of the color."
According to Mikolajczuk, the lighting project began last August, ordering materials, and then ran through to the beginning of December. "We took out half of the fixtures, and then installed temporary lighting," he said. "Then we brought in the (restored batch of) fixtures. We also spent a lot of time up in the attic, rewiring the attic." With the coordinated effort to replace any lights being restored with temporary lights, and the audio improvements taking less than a week, there were no delays or cancellations of any services at St. Bernard.
In addition to the chandeliers, the altar lights were also upgraded to LED, all paired with a dimming system.
"We matched the color temperature to the original incandescents, measured at around 2,700 Kelvin," said Mikolajczuk. "The lower Kelvin temperatures bring out more of the gold and reds, and the higher, the blues." To get the right match, an original 500-watt bulb was found and matched to the proposed LED bulb (by RemPhos Technologies, based in Danvers, Massachusetts). "The color was perfect," he added.
Some of the lighting had previously been changed to LED, but was powered to a bright 5,600 Kelvin, and required a fan. "You could hear the buzz. That's what started this project, to get this right," he said. The new lights not only successfully handled any concerns over color temperature, but also were the right fit for the church based on their energy efficiency and controllability with the dimming, he added.
Other changes at the church, which averages around 800 congregants over four Sunday masses, included painting the vaulted ceiling "patriot blue" (with gold stars). As a result of that work, Mikolajczuk said LighTec would return for some slight adjustments prior to the anniversary celebration.
Beyond the work with the chandeliers, Mikolajczuk said LighTec also upgraded all the lighting in the sanctuary, from drum lighting fixtures to cans, to the lights in the main foyer and choir area, as well as the sacristy lighting. The improvements also extended to lighting upgrades outside of the church.
For LighTec, this was the first project completed at St. Bernard, and the feedback they have since received since their work was done in December, has been incredibly positive, he noted.
"We have received a couple of nice emails and thank yous," said Mikolajczuk. "They were very happy with the outcome. They called me back to do another job." Marcoux as well has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from his congregation about the updates. "Some of the responses have been thank you for taking care of the church,' or thank you for caring' or thank you for what you are doing.'"
To Marcoux, the end result for the expansive project has been a very satisfying one. The work ended up being paid in full for the $1 million effort, spread across the five phases. That was thanks in large part to a couple of anonymous benefactors and a group of about 250 parishioners who more than once donated to the full-scale renovation.
"This is an older community, and they are grateful in seeing their church being restored. Passing it to the next generation all done through the power of generosity," he said.