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Due Diligence: Selecting an Ideal Architect

Before you buy a new piece of property, select an upgrade to your event management software, consider the purchase of digital signage, or even select locks for your facility, you do your homework. Because you want to get the best product possible to fill your needs the first time around and help you focus on ministry. To borrow a business term from the secular world, you perform due diligenceliterally defined as research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction. The same steps must be taken in the selection of an architect.

Worship Facilities Magazine queried a number of professionals, from church staff to builders to architects themselves, to gather of-the-moment advice to help you hire the right architect for your building project. Read on to learn their words of wisdom and cull what works for you.

First-Hand Experience
The first step in selecting the ideal architect is for church staff to back up and make certain they know who they are, and what their church stands for, according to Bob Donalson, a finance ministry team leader and project manager for Triangle Community Church (TCC) in Apex, North Carolina. As Donalson puts it, “The ministry plan comes first. Then conceptual design [happens].”

Specifically, Donalson reports that TCC is now planning a new building project with the help of church design consultancy Harvestime of Colorado Springs, Colorado. TCC has experienced staggering growth from 280 members just four years ago to 1,000 today. And so the question of who’ll be the project’s architect is looming near. However, first off, Donalson and church staff have come up with conceptual design ideas for the components of their new building that mesh with the church’s mission statement.

“Once we get to a certain stage of conceptual design agreement, then we’ll start worrying about an architect,” Donalson states. “If you’re like us and your budget is razor-thin, you should go to [the architect] with what you want.”

Donalson reports that TCC is also focusing on choosing its building methodde-sign/bid/build or design/build. And Donalson says the choice of building method is another important factor for churches to consider before choosing an architect.

The Builders’ Advice
The builders agree that knowing who you are is critical before bringing on an architect. Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services with Lima, Ohio-based Cogun Inc., says, “Our research has shown that churches most regret not planning adequately prior to designing their facilities. The planning [dictates] what is spent on the back end of the project.”

Cogun is a builder that uses an integrated team approach to partner with churches that are building new facilities.

Couchenour recalls one instance when his company was called into a project where a church had “scrapped [architectural] drawings that cost over $150,000 because of inadequate financial and space planning.”

Aside from due diligence up front, Couchenour believes churches should look for several key characteristics in an architect. “An architect has to be competent but personality is essential. It’s much easier to partner with someone who is fun to work with and [who] understands [a building project is] about the church’s ministry foremost.”

From Cogun’s building perspective, Couchenour says that architects themselves should also partner with the right professionals. “Make sure you have a team that can do feasibility planning and ongoing cost analysis from the very beginning. As the design is developed, the team can continually monitor the scope of work from a cost and space allocation standpoint,” he says.

Another important building project element to begin talking about upfront is the audio, visual, and lighting requirements of a new worship space. “Once [church staff ] has an idea of what design elements will be included, [A/V/L and acoustics] professionals bring valuable insights that reduce time and money,” Couchenour advises.

Henry Kohlleffel, vice president of business development with Houston, Texas based Century Builders, a church planning, design, and building firm, reports that the concept of relationship is all-important in choosing the right architect.

“Choose someone you can sit across the table with, someone you can trust,” Kohlleffel recommends, “ someone who understands your church and how your church operates.”

The Architects’ Own Words
Another key area of due diligence when planning a building project is prayer, says one architect. “Pray to God and ask guidance and wisdom in the selection of the architect,” suggests Robert Gerber, president of GJS Architects in Charleston, South Carolina.

“The architect is just a steward in helping [the] church through the process of growing the ministry. Every committee meeting should start in prayer,” Gerber contends.

In addition, Gerber believesjust as Couchenour asserts that the right architect can help perform some of the due diligence. As part of its initial ministry planning services, GJS asks a variety of vision and ministry questions, including, what are we here for? Where have we come from? Where are we now? Who are we now? Where are we going? How will we do it?

Church architect Jeff Harris, principal of Penndel, Pennsylvania-based WPH Architects for Ministry, also agrees that the right architect can help a church with the due diligence questions that need to be addressed prior to a new building project. “The architect [should] develop a comprehensive program from interviews with key ministry leaders, and understanding how a church operates is critical in that process. Experience in the church market is very important. A good architect will be a teacher, counselor, communicator, and guide,” he contends.

Harris also suggests that churches need to go beyond first impressions. “Anyone who has been involved in an interview process knows that first-impression personalities can be quite deceiving. An interview is important, but the church needs to do their homework beyond the interview.”

In particular, Harris suggests that church staff speak with an architect’s prior clients, as well as visiting facilities designed by that architect. These facility visits give “the church the opportunity to speak to the staff of that church about how the design is working for them. A good architect will invite honest scrutiny,” he reasons.

Harris also believes that church staff should point-blank ask potential architects what audio, video, and lighting consultants they use. “If the architect does not typically use an A/V/L consultant, that may give the church a key indicator on the experience of the architect in church design,” he adds.

To sum up, if you’re wrestling with the idea of a new building project, now’s the time to begin your homework. In the process, you will learn exactly who you are and where you’re going. And that may be one of the biggest steps in helping you pick the ideal architect to put the plan on paper.

Carol Badaracco Padgett is the editor of Worship Facilities Magazine, and resides in the Atlanta, Georgia area. She can be reached at .

Century Builders
Houston, Texas
Church planner, designer, and builder
(800) 777-5622 www.thinkcenturyfirst.com

Cogun Inc.
North Lima, Ohio
Church design and construction firm
(800) 258-5540 www.cogun.com

GJS Architects
Charleston, South Carolina
Architectural, planning, and interior design firm
(888) 722-4334 www.church-architect.org

Triangle Community Church
Apex, North Carolina
(919) 818-1803 www.tcc.org

WPH Architects for Ministry
Penndel, Pennsylvania
Architectural firm that focuses on worship facilities
(800) 755-1131 www.ChurchArchitects.com

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