When video gambling became illegal in South Carolina in July of 2000, businesses related to that market lost their source of income and went bankrupt or moved to another state.
This is a story of redemption of a 47,000 square foot warehouse previously used to support the gambling industry.
It is now the home of Hope Church, a non-denominational and multi-ethnic church dedicated to serving the communities of upstate South Carolina. Because of the initial costs involved with new development, it is usually more economical to convert existing buildings into church use than to start with a vacant piece of property.
A new facility of this size (building only) would normally cost at least 5 million dollars in upstate South Carolina.
This existing building renovation project came in at less than $40 per square foot or approximately 2 million dollars.
The positive economics of converting existing space into church use remains true as long as the building has these key features: Adequate roof height to accommodate the headroom needed in the auditorium, A large column to column spacing in order to minimize sightline obstructions in the auditorium, A fire sprinkler system, and A large parking lot.
This existing warehouse had adequate roof height on one side of the building and had an adequate column to column spacing (even though one column occurred right in the middle of the stage and would have to be removed). While lacking a large parking lot, the site was large enough to be able to add substantial parking.
THE DESIGN PROBLEM
The L-shaped pre-engineered building faced into a major intersection on a busy four-lane highway leading into Spartanburg, SC. The property was in the right place for maximum exposure for church use but did not have enough existing parking spaces.
The building itself was structurally sound but was basically just a warehouse with loading docks. There was no focal point, no inviting entrance and no visual access from the outside to the inside.
Any good church campus plan must start by addressing how the facility is perceived by the public when they first arrive on the site. Therefore, the first step in this building conversion project was to provide a main entrance that would become the focal point for the church. A bright, new glass entrance foyer was envisioned to create an atmosphere of excitement and to communicate where the main entrance was located.
The use of glass also provided visual clues to what people could expect on the inside.
A bold, unifying color scheme on the exterior served to highlight the entrance and gave new life to the existing metal wall panels. Natural stone accents at the main entrance were added to contrast with the metal building panels and painted concrete block walls. The grades outside the building were reworked to achieve access to the main entrance without any steps.
The rectangular warehouse area was the only area in the building with adequate clearance for the auditorium but it would be a tight fit for the desired 750 seat capacity. Also two freestanding columns in the middle of this space would have to be addressed since one of them would occur right in the center of the stage.
After consultation with a structural engineer and a cost estimate by the general contractor, the church decided that only the one column impacting the stage would be removed due to budget constraints.
Because the existing auditorium floor was flat, gallery seating was created in the rear of the auditorium to enhance sight lines to the stage and to promote intimacy in worship. The flat floor area has movable seating in order to facilitate multi-purpose uses while fixed theatre seating was installed in the elevated gallery areas for safety.
Since the building lacked adequate lobby space, a small 1,800 square foot addition was needed in order to satisfy this important need. This addition was also incorporated into the solution in order to obtain the proper focal point and main entrance. A large concourse gathering area was laid out to serve this auditorium.
This community gathering area contains a cafe', seating areas, visitor and new member welcome space. Existing toilets in this area were enlarged to handle the increased occupant load. The existing concrete floors were stained and sealed. The former office portion of the building with smaller room sizes and normal ceiling heights was converted into nursery and preschool use.
Larger rooms with open ceilings were reconfigured to serve children and youth needs. The large basement (at grade level on one side) was converted into church offices, group meeting space and training areas.
A key concept embraced by the church was the idea of collaboration space for the office area. Each ministry group would be divided into pods consisting of individual work space for staff members against the retaining wall (where no windows were possible) and open, inviting collaboration space directly opposite that area with new windows cut into the precast concrete wall panels. This arrangement enhances the community and collaboration effort while providing the necessary individual desk space.
As the inventory of existing buildings continues to grow, churches need to "think outside of the box" for ways to use these structures without tearing them down. Redeeming an old building and giving it new purpose and life is a wonderful picture of what Christ does in the lives of every believer. With an experienced church architect and some creativity, churches can save millions of dollars in construction costs while still achieving their facility goals and also provide a beautiful picture of redemption to the local community.