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Church…and Gym?

Church…and Gym?

Resourcefulness is the name of the game - resulting in a state-of-the-art space - for Pennsylvania's Hollowell Church

What happens when your congregation keeps growing but construction costs are too high to properly build a new space? You get creative - by using what you’ve already got - and transforming it into something even better.

Such was the case for Hollowell Church in Waynesboro, Pa., a rural community worship center that celebrated its first service in a newly transformed space last April-a remodeling project that dates back to 2005 when the church’s leadership assembled a committee to investigate expansion. “We were looking toward outreach and building our congregation, and if you don’t have anywhere for expansion, you’re not going to do that,” says Pastor Blaine Lougheed, Hollowell’s pastoral team leader.

“That’s what happened with our old sanctuary. We would reach a plateau of about 200 people and then drop down again to 180, and then reach up to 205, and then it went down again because there simply wasn’t any room for people.”

Lougheed explains that originally, this expansion was to involve the construction of an entirely new facility. “We came up with a plan for a sanctuary that would seat 500 people, and that would include a foyer or vestibule area,” he recounts. At that time, leadership was advised that the cost would be about $1.1 million, but as the church worked with its architecture, design/build and construction service providers, that number kept increasing. “It seemed that every time we got together - which was probably every 2-3 months - the price would escalate, and they would usually tack on another $200,000 [each] time.” Eventually, the figure reached over double the original price, in part due to the rising cost of materials, and leadership decided to put the project on hold.

On the shelf, yet still on the mind

As the committee stepped back to examine other possibilities, the church’s gymnasium was brought into the limelight. “We had been using it a lot throughout the week, but it was sitting idle on Sunday mornings,” Lougheed explains. It was also suitable for worship, provided that it be configured as a dual-purpose space. “We began to put together a plan that would allow us, within the scope of that previous budget, to accomplish the same thing by using the existing shell that we had.” And instead of investing the majority of that budget into an outer shell, the church would be able to direct those funds to technology that would be used to enhance the worship experience. The closing cost of the project remains at around $1.1 million - money that the church raised through a building fund to which congregation members contributed.

Steve Christiano of Gadget Media in Washington, D.C., worked with acoustician Neil Thompson Shade and Paul Beard, Hollowell’s executive board chair and project manager for this remodel, on the audio, video and lighting systems. He recalls that the most significant challenge for the project was to make the space “feel right” - both as a sanctuary and a gym.

“It would not be good to feel like you are having church in a gym, and it would also be inappropriate to feel like you were playing ball in a church,” Beard says. One of the ways that the right environment was achieved for both separate circumstances was through the architectural lighting system: “For church applications, we used warm, 32K sources that are dimmable to create the feeling of that warmth and intimacy,” he says. “We created a separate set of light sources for gym mode, where you want that bright, very diffused, even light everywhere for playing ball.”

Because the worship space would continue to be utilized as a gymnasium as well, the congregation had to content itself with gymnasium flooring. Additionally, the fixed pews were out of the question, since seating would have to be moved in and out of the space depending on the event. The good news? Hollowell saved significantly on seating: While fixed pews would have cost $110,000, the 500 22-inch, stackable, triple-thick foam chairs that the church ended up with cost $20,000—a significant savings. Four teams are responsible for setting up the chairs and then storing them again, each Sunday, on a rotating basis. “We have come up with little hand-trucks on our own, and within 10 minutes everything is put away,” Lougheed explains.

Questions of design

To open up sightlines, the basketball nets that were affixed to the ceiling were removed and replaced with portable nets. Beard—who, in addition to his duties at Hollowell, is renowned for the famous resonator guitars fabricated under his name—explains that the structure itself had to be able to withstand the wear and tear associated with a space that houses sports events. “Because we play volleyball and basketball in that space, everything had to be able to survive a hit from that type of a ball,” he says. “We spent a lot of time designing cages that housed the projection units so that they wouldn’t get hit.”

The acoustical treatment was also selected for its ruggedness, as was the high-impact drywall.

The stage area was gutted and equipped with new heating and ductwork, as well as lighting. Acoustician Neil Thompson Shade of Acoustical Design Collaborative Ltd., an acoustic design firm based in Ruxton, Md., specified “clouds”—acoustical treatments made of perforated aluminum and filled with unfaced fiberglass—that not only improve the sound of the space, but also contain lighting equipment and video projection units that project images, song lyrics and graphics onto the four “virtual windows” (or video screens) that line each side wall. (These screens are also used as scoreboards during sports events.) Prior to the integration of these virtual windows, the construction team—again, as per Shade’s specifications—transformed an overhang that originally ran around the room by insulating it with fiberglass that runs four feet deep, and removing the existing sheetrock of the soffit with perforated aluminum. Now, this acts as a bass trap, once again to boost the acoustical performance of the space.

Christiano explains that the A/V/L systems are accessible through a Crestron control system, which enables even those who aren’t overly technical to set the technology in motion through the touch of a button, thanks to a number of pre-programmed “modes.” For example, “Church Mode” activates power and lighting, drops the video screens, turns on the projectors, and sets the audio equipment to the desired settings for a service. “Gymnasium Mode” rolls up the majority of the video screens (several are used for scoreboards, depending on which sport is being played) and sets the system to gym lighting. A number of specialty modes accommodate internal meetings and special events.

Lougheed believes that the insulation used for the bass traps also contributes to energy conservation. “You can’t add that amount of insulation and not have an impact on the insular quality of the building itself,” he says. The church also installed LED lighting in an effort to significantly reduce energy usage.

Because many of the elements involving either worship or sports are mobile, Hollowell was forced to create storage space, both under the stage and in the form of an outdoor shed. This, as well as the pseudo-inconvenience of removable seating, is a small price to pay and, in many ways, the new seating enables the church to feel more intimate, Lougheed believes. “The benefit far outweighs any sacrifice in terms of time and energy, because it gives an entirely new feel to the worship experience,” he says. “Our old sanctuary was like a long, narrow runway strip, and people felt removed from the worship, because the stage was at the front and they could be 75-80 feet back. Now, we have a convex seating set-up so they actually feel like they are in closer proximity to one another [and] the stage.”

Beard notes that Hollowell’s choice to use its existing shell—therefore freeing funds for investment in A/V—enabled the church to construct an environment that allows for more creativity, as well as the space to accommodate new opportunities for ministry. “It gives people a chance to do a ministry that they would normally not do,” he says. “A/V, as a ministry, works for some people who might not be involved in ministry elsewhere in the church.” And, in some cases, it opens up new avenues for those who might not have known that they have a natural talent for audio, video, or both.

For Dee Martin, worship pastor at Hollowell, the biggest objective behind this transformation to high-tech A/V is to improve upon one of the church’s core objectives: worship. “Anything that enhances the worship experience is a high priority for me,” she says. “We wanted to create a space where we could have a comfortable place to lead worship, and that the people who lead the worship could be seen, but would also be able to lead and model worship as well. What we are trying to do now is to make sure that what we do and accomplish with the tools that we have serves the purpose of worship.”

Since last April, Hollowell’s leadership has noted a rise in attendance, and a number of new faces. “As people are seeing the facility, word is starting to get out because people are curious about what’s happening,” Lougheed says. “If they come out of curiosity and we’re allowed to express ministry to them, we trust that it will bring them back.” Part of this, Lougheed believes, is because the news has circulated within the community that today’s Hollowell Church is much different than the one that existed 10 years ago.

“Invariably, a church develops a reputation for the type of ministry that they have, and this has, perhaps, opened up an opportunity for us to express that we have transformed, or morphed a little bit, in terms of what we do now and how we minister,” Lougheed closes.

A/V/L Equipment Highlights


Ashly Audio: Protea ne34.24n (main DSP)

Danley Sound Labs: SH96 (main speakers)

Fulcrum Acoustic: CX896 (center speakers)

Powersoft Advanced Technologies Corp.: K3, K10 (amplifiers)

RCF: ART-322-AI (powered stage monitors)

Roland: M400 (sound board and digital snake); M48 (personal monitor mixers)

Roland/Cakewalk: Sonar V-Studio 700 (recording system)


Elation Professional: Elation Opti TRI PAR LED RGBW x 18 (stage color wash); RGBW LED strip x 6 (upstage back color strips); Opti PAR 575W conventional x 14 (stage front lighting); UNI BAR x 14 (dimming for front lighting); Design Wash 1400e x 2 (moving wash); Power Spot 700 CMY II x 4 (moving spots); Elation Design Spot 575 x 2MA Lighting: Grand MA2 (lighting console)


Cinemassive: Video system controller

Draper Inc.: Screens

EIKI: LC-8 10,000 lumen projectors x2 (main front and rear projectors); LC-XB42N 4500 lumen projectors x8 (virtual window projectors)


Crestron Electronics Inc.: PRO2 (control system)

TAGS: Gear
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