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All for One, One for All

All for One, One for All

About five short years ago, the process of selecting an architect and a builder was much more convoluted. Churches would likely go through the selection process in several steps, hoping that—in the end—the chosen parties would sync up well together and with church staff or the building committee.

But each year, experts report to Worship Facilities Magazine that there’s a tighter overlap between choosing a church’s design and building team for new construction or renovation. Perhaps the pause in building induced by the recession allowed the selection process to shake out and refine itself for all players involved. At any rate, selecting an architect and builder for your next project appears to be more clear-cut today. Read on to learn the straightforward advice of some top church designers and builders from around the country.

Teamwork can trump building methodology

Not so long ago, Design-Bid-Build was the main method by which church facilities were built. In short, a church leader would decide it’s time to build—either new construction, an addition, or renovation. So with some vision of the type of facility the church needed and wanted, the church leader would seek out an architect to design the new space. The church leader would then take the architectural plans to a number of builders for bids. The idea being, who could build the space in the most cost-efficient and timely manner, with one important caveat: could the church afford to build those already expensive architectural plans in the first place?

Today, a lot of the questions and pricing fluctuations are removed from the picture of church building, because architects and builders are working more collaboratively from the very beginning stages. A number of different building methodologies are replacing Design-Bid-Build and helping churches get a building that’s truer to their vision, serves ministry purposes better from the get-go, and costs less overall, with fewer change orders along the way.

David Fink, preconstruction manager/business development with Churches by Daniels, a church-focused builder in Broken Arrow, Okla., describes what’s going on in church design and building today this way. “Find a builder and an architect that have worked together and have churches under construction, [as well as] churches already built,” he says. “We believe in the team approach. By working as a team, we remove the adversarial aspect and are seeing more churches get more of what they want and envisioned.”

And he adds, “The key is selecting the right team and trusting each member of that team.”

When asked about the increased collaboration among architects and builders at the start of church building projects today, Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, and internationally recognized sacred space planner from Clifton Park, N.Y., says that foremost, the various trades involved in the creation of a worship facility should have “an outstanding track record for delivering the product the client wants, on time and within budget,” and that all line items in the cost estimates should be transparent. In addition, all those involved from the various trades “need to have proven records for doing extraordinary work.”

Vosko, incidentally, is a member of the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects’ (AIAs’) Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, or IFRAA. IFRAA is a Professional Interest Area (PIA) of the AIA for architects and those interested in religious art and architecture.

Collaboration between architects and builders from the start of a church project is paramount, Vosko reports. “In other professions, e.g. health care, no one physician could possibly know all there is to know about the field of medicine. Likewise, architects and building contractors see the benefit of responding to the congregation’s [building] program with other professionals from the outset.”

Vosko adds, “The team would include not only the architect and builder but also the project manager, various consultants (liturgical, landscape, acoustics, lighting, media) and engineers, as well as the fundraising professionals.”

Does this mean that one company, employing all parties, is desirable? “At first glance, one-stop shopping is a great American product,” Vosko says. “However, one wonders who is looking out for the [church] client. Who will challenge the design? Who will bring alternative possibilities to the table? Who will overlook the quality of the materials and the work being done?”

A final word of advice comes from John Justus, AIA, principal and vice president of HGA Architects and Engineers in Roseville, Calif. “Pick a contractor and architect who want to build your project for the same reasons you do. Sharing in a common mission will lead to a better end product,” he says.

Team master planning makes building more digestible

Aside from interviewing and choosing architects and building team members with a successful track record in working together and building churches, professionals report that having and following a master plan for future building can help make church expansion projects more on-target and affordable in the long run.

“It is common for a church to have a master plan that shows several phases of construction [as a result of planning as a team, from the start, with the architect and builder],” reports Kelly Johnson, business development manager with Austell, Ga.-based Swofford Construction.

“Not only does a master plan help the church budget for future facilities, it also allows the church to build in phases as funds become available,” Johnson continues. “When the church teams with the architect and the builder in the beginning, it gives them a better understanding of the [entire] construction process. It will also build the lasting relationship that will help the church carry out all phases of their master plan.”

Robert Trice and Ty Maloney, project manager and BIM integration manager, respectively, of Atlanta-based general contractor Batson-Cook Co., suggest that churches pay attention to potential team members’ continued work on various phases of a master plan. “Batson-Cook [can tell each church who interviews us about our] repeat work (that we’ve been invited back for Phase II work),” the pair says.

In essence, having a comprehensive team—with a comprehensive plan—assembled from day one will help keep the entire team on the same page throughout the building process.

The important role of new technologies

Technology can also help keep the team on task and working smoothly together. The professionals report that Building Information Modeling, or BIM, software is one ideal team tool for church building projects. BIM creates a virtual 3D representation of a building on the computer, where everyone on the team can see a little model of exactly what’s being created.

“BIM is a superior development in the world of construction, utilizing technology to design, create, model and implement a project faster and smarter than ever before,” says David L. Hatton, founder and CEO of Churchworx Inc., a project management consultant in Houston and Dallas. “BIM is very helpful in that every senior pastor wants to know ASAP, ‘What will this vision cost?’ I believe the implementation of the most current version of BIM technology provides an incredibly accurate ‘early-real-time’ estimate, which helps define many of the next project development steps for the church, especially project finance.”

Hatton also notes that BIM technology, due to its costs and the learning curve necessary to use it properly, may be out of reach for some firms at present. “But if utilized, in no way should BIM be relied upon as the sole or final pricing activity for the project,” he adds.

On this point, Craig Rafferty, FAIA, AIA 2011 IFRAA chair, and principal of Rafferty Rafferty Tollefson Lindeke Architects in St. Paul, Minn., points out that time is in a church’s favor: “Longer term, as the economy reestablishes itself, BIM will be the standard.”

Architect Jerry Halcomb, founder and CEO of HH Architects in Dallas, notes that when BIM is used in a building project now, though, its contributions to the bottom line are immediately measurable. With BIM, “changes can occur much earlier in the process,” he says of the technology that HH reports using for 10 years prior. “The later changes are made in the design and construction process, the more costly it is to make those changes.”

In closing, Justus notes that collaborative design and BIM technology have something in common with a church’s mission, making knowledge of them and use of them something for church leaders to seriously consider. “Christianity centers around collaboration and relationships among its members. So why should not the design process be similar?” he asks.

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