Sometimes the littlest changes can make the biggest difference. Through four small additions that totaled less than 3,500 square feet, Vanman Architects and Builders was able to help Bloomington, Minn.-based St. Bonaventure Catholic Church attain its goal of welcoming the nearby community to "discover the glory of God."
Vanman was able to address the immediate needs of the St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, which included the need for a youth center, a meeting room, a larger gathering space, and bathroom updates. Additionally, an exterior update created a welcoming presentation to the community.
Initially hired for a youth space connecting the sanctuary to the school on the site, Vanman quickly turned its attention to other spatial issues. The church building was trapped in the 1960s. The structure was imposing, with a low, dark entry a small gathering space. This entry limited fellowship and made it nearly impossible to facilitate a formal entrance or exit during weddings and funerals. Moreover, the existing bell tower sits on the building setback line, limiting the ability to build a gathering at the entry of the sanctuary. By sacrificing a minimal amount of seating in the pews, Vanman was able to push the exterior wall to the setback line and create a new gathering space that wraps around the rear of the sanctuary and connects to the new youth room. This renovation lost the existing cry room as a result. So, Vanman made the back wall of the sanctuary out of glass, allowing for overflow seating, cry room, and a clear line of sight from the new gathering into the sanctuary to the altar. The renovation provides a view of the altar from any point in the fellowship and gathering.
The existing bathrooms were in need of an update, but squeezing new ones into the plan proved to be problematic. Instead, a rarely-used kitchen was relocated into the fellowship space and additional bathrooms were retrofitted inside the existing space. An addition south of the bell tower created a much needed meeting room that opens through the unused bell tower.
4 Additions/Expansions (St. Bonaventure Catholic Community)
Project Size: 801-2000 seats
Completion Date: September 1, 2014
The multi-purpose youth room and the meeting room were two more rooms that had been created through the inventive addition to the entrance. The south west addition houses a youth room with a separate entrance for security during after-hours use.
High windows bring natural light into the new gathering space and into the sanctuary, opening the entire space. What had been low and dark was now high and bright, and the bell tower (previously featureless excepting the bells) added a sculpted design and cross, an identity the church had lacked previously.
The new additions have rooflines that direct the eye up and to the cross at the center. Windows provide transparency and visibility. Stone detailing broke the imposing all brick façade and echoed back to the fireplace inside. The existing side entrances to the church originally opened directly into the sanctuary and were set back into the building, creating a dark and foreboding invitation. Vanman pushed the entrances to the exterior wall, creating a warm welcome.
The history of the church and its longevity in the community inspired Vanman to celebrate the existing building by framing the bell tower and bringing the original date stone forward in the new stone wall.
The most interesting comment received was what the additions did for a need that the congregation did not know it had. The new organic and free-flowing gathering space, with its nooks and crannies, proved conducive for one-on-one conversation and private study that had not been possible before. A congregation that once did not stay after church began to linger. Bible studies turned into conversation groups. The fireside room in the old bell tower became a place to gather.