Build to Challenge
It is an oft-repeated story: Churches meeting wherever they can within a community, becoming portable, rejoicing in tribulation because a church is not a building, but a group of people searching for truth and a relationship with their Creator.
A happy ending for these stories is the blessing of a permanent facility equipped with the tools and space the church needs to nourish its ministries. For Wilmington, N.C.’s Port City Community Church (PC3), a permanent home has done all of those things, but it’s not an ending, it’s only the next step.
After nine years of weekly set up and tear down at multiple venues, including a local movie theater, PC3 had grown to more than 4,000 people in 2006. Church leadership believed that with blessing comes responsibility, and from the standpoint of good stewardship, made the decision to build. “Being portable has proven invaluable and no one would trade those days because of the lessons we learned. But ultimately, we believed there was a more effective and efficient way to mobilize our people for ministry,” says PC3 Senior Pastor, Mike Ashcraft.
Through mixed blessings, PC3 was able to acquire 16 acres in Wilmington and then unveiled their plan to build to the congregation. “We asked everyone to prayerfully consider what they felt God wanted them to give as a one-time offering,” says Ashcraft of PC3’s fund-raising approach. “At the same time, we invited people to commit to giving a specific amount over an 18-month period.”
Between one-time offerings and long-term giving, the church raised a little over $6 million and financed the remaining $14 million needed to complete the project. Then in July 2008, PC3 welcomed more than 5,000 people into their first service in their new, permanent home.
A Responsible Approach
“We really value community and wanted to create a space where conversations could happen,” says Pastor of Worship Arts, Chris Kuhne, of PC3’s desire to have flexible, open and inviting spaces. John Urban, president of Urban Design Architect, P.A. in Wilmington, was already associated with the church and was able to transfer his knowledge of that personality into the design of their facility.
The 90,791 square foot building was partially designed and fully constructed using Integrated Project Delivery (IDP), meaning the architect, builder, engineers, project manager, A/V/L consultant, church leadership, and other involved parties made decisions cooperatively, saving time and money. For instance, Kuhne, who oversees much of PC3’s technical ministry, was always present in design and construction meetings along with the hired professionals, which minimized change orders and issues with installation and end-use.
The approach was adopted after the church and their project management firm, Alpharetta, Ga.’s CCL Associates, realized the original load-bearing masonry design was going to send the project over budget. PC3 was introduced to Charlotte, N.C.-based Edifice, Inc. by CCL, and soon hired them as the general contractor. CCL and Edifice pushed for IDP, and when meetings began, the budget issue was resolved as Edifice quickly identified the benefits of switching to tilt-up concrete construction, consequently saving $732,000 on the overall building cost of $20 million.
However, since IDP was not put into practice until the design process was nearly finished, there were some imperfections. “Had we used this approach from the very beginning, we could have given the church the peace of mind that they were building a church within their budget,” says Bryan Knupp, senior vice president with Edifice.
There was still much gained, the project was completed on time and below budget thanks in large part to the tilt-up building method. According to Knupp, tilt-up construction begins with the pouring of the foundation and slab. After they are in place, forms are constructed on the slab for the creation of wall panels. When the steel-reinforced panels are complete, a crane lifts, or “tilts”, them into place on the preset foundation. The panels are then joined together with an interior steel frame and become a part of the load-bearing structure.
“It was cost effective and helped us meet fire codes,” says Urban. “We had the space needed to do the form work on site, too, which allowed the exterior wall system to be erected in a time efficient manner.”
“It reflects the style of the church and creates a modern feel,” Knupp adds. “It is also suitable to a coastal climate and the church’s acoustical goals.”
A Place to Gather
Mid-construction, PC3 was a gray concrete shell. Today it is crisp, clean and geometrically intriguing. Groupings of small, square windows are complemented by the larger glass plates of the doorways and prominent rotunda. Steel tube trellis archways over the doors and the rotunda’s curves contrast with the structure’s otherwise straight and modern lines. The abundant glass is tinted green and bright white paint was applied directly to the concrete. This refreshing color pairing makes a brilliant first impression in keeping with the seaside locale and ministry themes of PC3 - and it’s sustainable. “White roofs save on energy costs, especially air conditioning. They also reflect light, meaning they don’t create a ‘heat island’ that would impact surrounding wildlife,” says Knupp. In this case, a white thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roof was installed, which provides exceptional resistance to ultraviolet exposure.
Inside, the main entrance is an airy atrium where a neutral color palette, stained concrete flooring, and a curved, glass-encased stairway are bathed in natural light. The space houses a café with seating for 50-60, a bookstore, and an orientation space with seven breakout rooms. “The use of natural light and a contemporary design lend openness and a ‘come as you are’ feeling,” says Urban.
Church leadership was adamant about keeping the interior environment uncluttered and adaptable. “One of our first series in the new building was about our walk with God, so we turned everything on stage and in the lobby area into a shoe store. You just can’t do that in a traditional space or one where the interior components are unchangeable,” says Kuhne.
The building’s central rotunda was facilitated by an interior, curved concrete panel that is the focal point of a segmented-radius layout. Wide corridors originate in this spot and lead into independent areas of the building. One leads to the younger half of PC3’s amazing children’s and youth ministries, Grow Zone and Treasure Island. Grow Zone (birth-PreK) is a 12-classroom area close to the main auditorium and introduced by a large tree and oversized bees. As children walk through the area, they are surrounded by hanging clouds and painted scenery with 3-D appliqué complements. Close by is Treasure Island (K-5th grade), a beach town boardwalk with a surf shop and smoothie bar. Four small-group breakout rooms and staff support rooms surround a 250-seat theater.
Down a separate hallway, Tsunami (middle school) and Ripple Effect (high school) share another theater, themed as a downtown club called Studio3. A large lobby with multiple seating areas and gaming stations attract teens before and after services and opens onto an outdoor activity area. Again, support rooms surround a 250-seat theater, although this theater has booth seating for more small-group interaction. Both theaters are equipped with full A/V/L to support the programming elements of the ministries.
Off of the building’s primary entrance, the main auditorium seats 1,400 on the floor and 325 in a balcony. The floor seats are non-fixed, stackable chairs that can be moved to make the space multipurpose. In the middle of the floor seating is the audio and lighting production booth. “We wanted our audio engineers where the people’s ears were and not up in the balcony, and we wanted our lighting programmers to see the stage and the symmetry of the lighting,” says Kuhne.
PC3 is an extremely tech savvy church, attracting volunteers from a thriving local film industry. Their $1.3 million state-of-the-art A/V/L system was designed by Clark ProMedia of Alpharetta, Ga., and revolves around a Digidesign Venue with ProTools HD front-of-house system and a 28-by-19 foot proscenium flanked by two 9-by-16 foot screens. Quality sound in all three theaters is accomplished thanks to the acoustic-soundness of the concrete construction and installation of Lapendary acoustical treatments. “We are the premier performance venue in our town and that gives us an edge over alternative uses of people’s time on the weekends,” says Kuhne.
Backstage, there are restrooms and changing rooms for congregants preparing for baptism in the stage’s sunken baptistry pool. There are also custom-built guitar isolation cabinets and greenrooms for band members and ministry.
“This building encourages and challenges us to remain flexible and creative - always focused on purpose and potential, and not the reasons we cannot do things,” says Ashcraft.
At the commencement of the project, pastoral leadership focused on the future building being the next step in their walk with God. They described it as a hub for their ministry, a place to teach and mobilize. Likewise, it was a decision God led them to, and therefore, they knew it would materialize.
“This project was just a tangible reminder of how PC3 has always operated – by God honoring faith. We believed He was leading us to take on this challenge and, in turn, He has been faithful with every step,” Ashcraft concludes.