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Structural Options

Structural Options

The landscape in light of current economic and environmental concerns

A combination of economic forces and environmental concerns are having various impacts on the way churches are getting built these days. On the economic front, site development costs for churches and other commercial construction projects “have gone through the roof,” according to Todd R. Phillippi, principal of Penndel, Pennsylvania-based WPH Architects for Ministry.

“Site development (i.e., clearing, grading, storm water management, utilities, landscaping, paving) used to account for, on average, about 18% of a new project's total cost,” reports Phillippi. But now, “Between the increased environmental restrictions on the part of almost all states and municipalities, and the rising cost of oil, we are seeing these costs approaching 35%nearly double what they were five or six years ago.”

Meanwhile, construction costs have also gone up significantly, at a rate twice that of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), adds Phillippi. “And with new facilities getting ever-more expensive to build,” he notes, “we are seeing more renovations, along with more outside-the-box thinking on handling growing congregations.”

One way to keep construction costs down, of course, is to utilize multi-purpose, as opposed to single-use facilities. In that arena, “We are doing more large-scale, multi-purpose worship centers that seat up to 1,200,” says Phillippi.

But in a shift from previous thinking, these centers are being designed with the worship function first and foremost in mind.

“We've found that when you create a multi-purpose space as a gymnasium that can also serve as worship assembly space, what you wind up with is a jack-of-all-trades box that is not great for any particular usenot worship, not banquets, not basketball,” Phillippi says.

With this in mind, recent WPH-designed projectsincluding one at Gracepoint Gospel Fellowship, a non-denominational church in New City, New York, profiled in this issuemake use of motorized telescopic theater seating to create worship spaces that can be transformed into gyms and meeting halls. The seating extends out of the walls “and creates an amphitheater setting when the space is being used for worship,” Phillippi explains, “and it retracts and goes flat against the walls for other uses.

Going (Really) Green
Making maximum utilization of multi-purpose facilities is well in keeping with environmentally friendly, energy saving “green” standards of architecture, according to Phillippi.

Indeed, “going green” is a concern of more and more churches in the construction of their facilities, adds Bob Adams, a church design consultant with J H Batten Inc., a Walkertown, North Carolina-based design/build general contractor.

“Churches have a growing interest in building materials that are more energy efficient, come from sustainable materials, or [that] can be recycled,” says Adams.

Construction-wise, most metal building products are 100% recyclable, adds Adams. Concrete also fits the bill, he notes, and can be used in the form of precast panels or poured into forms, “which is also a cost-effective and highly energy efficient method of wall construction that we are using more and more.”

But at the same time, churches opting to use environmentally friendly materials in construction projects need to evaluate whether the materials used are truly green, according to Phillippi.

“They need to look hard at specifics of materials, first of all to evaluate whether they are really green,” Phillippi notes.

Just because a particular building material is made from a renewable resource doesn't necessarily make it green, according to Phillippi. Bamboo flooring, for example, is a rapidly renewable resource. “But by the time you take into account the chemicals used to glue it togethermany of which are not particularly environmentally friendlyand add in the energy consumed to ship it in from across the world, all of a sudden that bamboo is not exactly the greenest material in the world.”

One green product that has recently caught Phillippi's attention is PaperStone, an architectural solid surface certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for using 100% post-consumer recycled paper. “When compared to vinyl siding, stucco, or brick, it makes a lot of sense from the renewable resource perspective,” he says, “and can be used to provide some nice effects to the exterior of a building.”

Pre-maunfactured Advantages
Today's pre-manufactured steel building technology can offer churches significant construction cost savings, as well as much more flexibility in design than they used to, according to Daniel McCabe, project manager, western states, with Continental Construction & Management, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based commercial, retail, and specialty construction firm.

At press time, Continental was wrapping up work on a 21,620-square-foot children's ministry building for Legacy Church, an interdenominational church in Albuquerque. The building incorporates an 8,000-square-foot auditorium featuring projectors, screens, staging, and sound systems with classrooms and a themed playground, and was built utilizing a pre-manufactured steel structure.

Cost savings are the biggest advantage offered by this type of construction, according to McCabe, with Legacy Church saving some $50,000 by going this route as opposed to traditional stick-built technology. At the same time, “This is no cookie-cutter building by any means,” he notes, “but one that was designed to specifically meet the needs of the church.”

The pre-manufactured steel building cage well-accommodated the unique interior design of the common area of Legacy Church's new children's building, according to McCabe. Designed by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Jonathan Martin Creative, the interior uses a variety of materials to create a “Central Park/New York” theme, he notes, with the entrances to individual classrooms each resembling 1940s-era New York City buildings.

Precast Concrete Corner
In a world where materials costs are consistently on the upswing, the use of precast concrete makes more and more sense for church construction, according to Kurt Williams, church project developer for T&W Church Solutions, an Indianapolis, Indiana-based planner/designer/builder.

Some 60%-70% of T&W's projects across the state utilize precast concrete, reports Williams. While there are cheaper alternatives, he notes, “Precast concrete is a 100-year product that delivers the economy that churches are looking for.”

Using precast concrete panels does have drawbacks, notes Williams. “You do have to bring in a 60-ton crane to handle the panels,” he says. Also, “You have to go to two stories with your building, which is the breakpoint at which the panels become economicalif you are just doing one story, it's better from an economic standpoint to go the traditional brick-and-stick route.”

From the environmental standpoint, though, precast concrete is superior. “It lasts,” Williams says, “and it gets LEED points because concrete is considered a recyclable material.”

Precast concrete works well for churches that either can't afford or don't want high-order architectural design features, according to Williams. And it adds a degree of flexibility for churches that may want to eventually sell their buildings for other uses.

“We've had instances where we have built with precast because churches wanted commercial value in their building in the case of sale,” recounts Williams.

Given their typically specialized nature, most churches can only be sold for their land value, with the structures themselves having little or no value for a buyer, Williams explains. So, for one client that wanted the option to eventually sell their church as a commercial or industrial facility, “we used precast panels on both the interior and exterior walls of both their sanctuary and gym, so that at some point in the future, the space could easily be converted into warehouse space.”

In addition to economic factors, some churches prefer the non-specialized look that can be attained with precast concrete, Williams says.

“Laminated arches and large steeples are still big in some parts of the country, but in others we have clients telling us that they don't want to look that much like a church,” says Williams. Indeed, “We actually work in some areas where the less the structure looks like a church, the easier it is to get it permitted.”

But at the end of the day, Williams adds, much of what form the church structure takes “depends largely on the DNA of the churcha combination of who they are, and who they are reaching out to.

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