[ In the September/October 2007 issue of Worship Facilities Magazine, Ron Kastens discussed in the article Property Search and Acquisition the challenges that CrossWay Christian Church encountered in locating property for their planned church facility. He continues his advice to church pastors with some lessons learned in the months that followed their successful property search. ]
Once our church (CrossWay Christian Church, of Nashua, New Hampshire) completed our property search, there were numerous tasks that needed to be accomplished. I'd like to continue the discussion from my last article with insights gleaned after we located our property.
I am sure entire articles could be written on architect selection, and indeed, Worship Facilities Magazine has covered this topic extensively. I'll point out just a few things that were important to me.
Make sure the person or firm is capable of handling your project. Have they done projects of similar and larger sizes in the past? Do you really want a residential architect to cut his teeth on your 20,000 square foot building? More than likely the answer is no. Ask for a list of references and call them. Go see the buildings they have designed. Just because a firm designs only churches or specializes in churches does not automatically give them a head start on other firms. Make sure that a firm that only designs churches does not feel like they have everything figured out"We know how to design your church. Just ask us."
We interviewed several architectural firms, and once we figured out which ones could handle the scope of our job, we chose the one with whom we sensed the best chemistry. I don't think we realized it at the time, but I think we chose the firm that listened best. If your architect is not a good listener he or she will not be a good architect for you.
I underestimated how important the civil engineer would be to our project. We hired a firm that was highly recommended to us by a local developer. I think local is always better because the firm is immersed in local codes, procedures, policies, and all the unwritten ways of doing things with the city. The civil engineer was critical to obtaning our approvals with the city. Hire an architect that has a good rapport with youbut hire a civil engineer who has a good rapport with the city.
If you are not sure who does, ask around. Ask someone on the city's planning and zoning staff to recommend a couple of sharp engineering firms. They know who is good. Do not skimp on this decision. If your city is like ours, this person will represent you before the zoning and planning boards.
What can you do to begin cultivating a good relationship with appropriate city officials? When we first began our property search, I sat down with a few members of our city's staff to find out what we needed to be aware of as we began looking for property. They were very helpful. Later, when we had property and a site plan, we sat down with them again to gain a sense of what issues might be raised at the hearings before the zoning and planning boards. It was a big help to me for that to be my second meeting with those people instead of the first. In addition, I also met with the alderman who represented the district in which the property is located. Over lunch we discussed the area, its needs, and what ideas he had for a church meeting on the property we had purchased.
Depending upon your location, proximity to abutters, and your area of the country, it is impossible to say how your abutters will respond to your project. I can tell you this, however. Just about everyone dislikes change, especially in their back yard. In addition, the more uninformed they are about the change, the more they will dislike it.
We were fortunate in that one of our members is a direct abutter. We signed the purchase and sale agreement in November. In December I held gatherings at the home of our member, right in their neighborhood, to hear from the abutters. I told them that before we even hired an architect, I wanted to hear from them what ideas or concerns they had about our project. I wanted to try to incorporate those ideas in from the beginning.
At the end of that evening I said to them, "You may not like a church building going up on that property, I understand that. But when this is over I want you to be able to say that we listened and we handled this in the right way." Sometime later after our site plan was completed, we held another meeting, at our current facilities, to show them the site plan and get their feedback. While the abutters were not doing cartwheels in response to our project, I believe we established good relationships with our neighbors. I think that has helped us during this process, but even more importantly, it was the right thing to do.
Every city is different in how it operates, so I do not want to say a great deal about this process. One of the most important things is to hire a great civil engineer and architect who can help you navigate the procedures in your town. And, expect it to take more time than you think.
[ Watch the Worship Facilities Magazine website for an upcoming video on CrossWay's new building. ]