Athens Church in Athens, Georgia is a true embodiment of redemption and rebirth. During a two year period, Bradfield, Richards, Rhodes & Associates Architects Inc. worked with the church to breathe new life into an eyesore of a dilapidated strip mall, using repurposed items in the design and ensuring flexibility of spaces to make the church sustainable and prepared for future growth.
Athens Church, a strategic partner of Northpoint Ministries, began more than a decade ago as a portable church, first setting up in a high school. In two years it had grown considerably, soon filling a theater in the heart of downtown Athens, where it stayed until 2011. Still, Athens was considered a portable church.
Complete Building Renovation (Athens Church)
Project Size: 801-2000 seats
Completion Date: July 10, 2016
The site of an old abandoned Walmart building came up for sale, and the church was able to purchase the property at a fraction of its once-appraised value. That portion of the building was transformed into a 1,300-seat auditorium along with related classrooms. The church continued to grow, by 2014 it again needed more space. The rest of the strip mall was not doing well. Businesses were closing, and it was becoming a blight on the community. The timing was just right, and the church was able to purchase the remainder of the mall in order to expand.
Choosing to renovate an existing structure rather than building from the ground up proved to be an incredible money saver. The church as a nonprofit got a great deal, the developer who was losing money was able to get out the property and get a big tax break, and the city got a blighted property improved. Environmental stewardship and sustainability, repurposing and reclaiming items became the cornerstones of the 310,000 square foot project.
In the beginning, it was difficult to visualize the potential amidst the leaky roof, low ceilings, closed off spaces created by restaurants and retail stores and the filth and grime left behind by dining areas and storerooms. We were confident that beneath the surface was a new church home ready to welcome more than 4,000 faithful on any given Sunday.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." - 2 Corinthians 5:17
The biggest design hurdle was the church's main building in the middle of the campus which now houses the 2,200-seat auditorium. To ensure that the space can accommodate the high-tech and fast pace of today's services, the space is column-free and with the necessary height for rigging and lights. The goal was to make it feel more like a performing arts center and less like a TJ Maxx with rows of chairs. Achieving that was no easy task as it required removing the entire roof and raising it to allow for sufficient height in the sanctuary.
Some of the most detailed and welcoming spaces are for children at four grade levels. The children's spaces were divided into four areas: Waumba (birth to pre-K), Upstreet (elementary), Transit (middle school), and Inside Out (high school).
For the Inside Out high school area, around a dozen old shipping containers were repurposed as actual classrooms by stacking them up, cutting doors out, and installing lights, HVAC, carpet and furnishings.
Total building renovation costs topped $9 million before audio/visual and lighting expenses, and Birmingham-based contractor Brasfield & Gorrie handled the construction. Repurposing and revitalizing rather than building new saved the church at least 34 percent.