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The Importance of Incorporating Lighting Early in the Construction Process
By: Stephen Arnold and Shellie Arnold

Foreseeable and preventable errors are often commonplace in many church construction projects, especially as they relate to technical systems such as lighting, audio, video, and staging. Frequently, technical systems are the last to be considered and top the list for budget cuts.  
Lighting is often the first area to be reduced, taking a backseat to more obvious issues such as audio equipment and planning enough parking space. Yet, is it really beneficial to construct a new building or renovate an old one, if those who attend (or watch via Internet feed or DVD or television) cannot properly see the ministry being presented? And, it is always more expensive to add systems like lighting after the building is completed.
Energy costs are always a concern, and lighting is a primary area where energy consumption can be controlled. Is there an energy management system that could be utilized to cut costs and perhaps qualify for state or federal rebates?
It is very important to have dependable, expert lighting advice from a lighting systems integrator at the very beginning of your church construction project.

Best Case Scenario
In a "perfect" construction world, a lighting systems integrator who specializes in worship environments should be included in your planning meetings from the very start. This professional should listen to your worship philosophy and ministry goals. He should observe or attend a service and then meet with your ministry team to discuss such questions as:
* What is the proposed use of the new space, both immediate and long-term?
* To what extent is your ministry dependent on technology?
* How will the new or improved facility enhance or broaden your ministry?
* Do you have limited technical staff?
* Do you need a fast turnaround between services or events?
* How important is daily energy management?
Many times, the church technicians are left out of this preliminary construction stage where key decisions are made decisions that can limit future ministry. The best lighting integrator will listen to your technical staff in an effort to better understand the daily operation of the church. This specialist may also have new ideas that you haven't considered and know how to produce an outcome that you previously thought to be unattainable.

Then, based on your preliminary budget, he will provide you with a custom lighting system design that will fit your needs and eliminate the problem of later trying to "fit" the necessary lighting system into a completed structure.
Your architect can then work from the accurate and complete specialized lighting design. This means that you will receive more accurate bidding from contractors and have fewer revisions to the construction drawings, which saves you money, stress, and time.

A Long-Term Relationship
Use of a lighting systems integrator shouldn't stop after the preliminary design phase. Rather, he should continue to be an advocate throughout the construction process, working directly with your architect and general contractor.
Many churches make the mistake of consulting professionals for the initial plans and then after the plans are drawn, appoint an on-staff pastor as project manager the contact person between the church and the general contractor to oversee all aspects of the project. Throughout the construction, this pastor will be asked to "sign off" on various phases, updates, and revisions to the plans. This may be fine if we're talking about choosing between white and ivory paint for the bathrooms, but it isn't a good idea if we're talking about changing type or location of house light fixtures. This is when major mistakes can happen. 
It creates tremendous problems for your contractor when he has to move the air conditioning ductwork above the stage again because both the original and more recent placement positions literally blocked the lights and video screen. Yes, this does happen. Your church will end up paying much more than was originally planned for each and every correction.
Church construction is a demanding process that requires many decisions to be made along the way. The best lighting integrator will work with your contractor for the duration of the project to ensure that the systems be they theatrical, house, or architectural lighting are correctly installed and meet your lighting needs. He will communicate with your technical staff on a regular basis and later train your staff on the new systems, so that they are fully prepared to provide technical support for your ministry.
After the project is complete, long-term support and preventative maintenance by the same team that designed and installed the systems will maximize the life of the systems and ensure a great return on your investment. And, as technology changes, upgrading or expanding your lighting systems will be easier and less expensive.

The Right Specialist
The importance and benefits of involving a lighting systems integrator from start to finish of your project cannot be ignored. Well, they can be, but the result is usually costly, limits your ministry, and can leave you with a very frustrated architect or contractor.
Proper lighting is an important part of providing a distraction-free environment for worship. As with other areas of life and ministry, wouldn't it be better to do it right the first time?

Stephen Arnold is church lighting specialist for Candela Controls, Inc. in Winter Garden, Florida, www.candelacontrols.com. He has more than 25 years of church and entertainment lighting experience. Shellie Arnold is a writer and speaker.  

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