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Renovating the Sanctuary
By: Fredrick Taggart

There are many reasons church leaders and congregations begin thinking about renovations for their places of worship. One obvious reason is to restore furnishings, walls, floors, windows, etc. that show age or deterioration. Another not so obvious in appearance is that the functionality of the church may no longer meet the needs of a growing congregation.

As a church family grows with its surrounding environment, the facility needs may change. Space becomes an issue when trying to house church members comfortably and with ease of access. Accessibility for church members with disabilities is now being introduced and may warrant redesigning the seating layout. Lighting and sound deficiencies may compound the functional aspects. Whatever the reason, churches will usually hover over decisions to renovate or restore existing furnishings and structures in part because of budgets or because they lack experience in church renovation. This phase demands time and effort from many individuals in the church to get the ball rolling. The key is getting everyone all on the same wave length in thinking so all can roll together.

In many cases, there is no right or wrong way to go, just that everyone has their own opinion. Sometimes this can go on for several months or longer and information gathered early on in the process can become stale or no longer an option. Or due to leadership or committee member changes, the project may once again find itself sitting on hold waiting for another member to pick it up again and continue forward. Once a decision is made to make a change, churches will usually look for professional help. It is a welcome relief to have a professional step in at this point. But the real work lies ahead in finding the right company to bring it all together. Being able to find someone not only with experience in church renovation, but with foresight into the dynamics of decision-making is crucial to keeping everyone focused. It also requires someone with good people skills to help manage the myriad of questions and ideas that will be presented.

As ideas for renovations are birthed into the minds of individuals of a church, conflicts may brew laying a ground work for confusion or dissension amongst groups. While one group may see the need for new seating or design layout, another group may advocate for a new sound system. One group is looking for improved and energy efficient lighting, while another feels 'if it isn't broken, why fix it?' Building consensus within the church is vital to establishing a good working relationship. You not only need to answer their questions, but you will need to know how to meet their needs. Experience in working with various architects and other design professionals will help with mediation between the different groups to keep the focus on the outcome and benefit of a project well planned. Disaster looms in lack of planning so this should be stressed up front.

Some churches may desire to renovate to change the overall look from traditional to a more contemporary look. But what happens when a church begins the process of planning for a restoration only to learn midstream that they may not be on the most cost effective course? What if their dated style of church no longer meets the needs of a fast growing and moving congregation? Staying in tune with today's technology and tapping into the modern world of textures and colors comes into play when you begin the redesign process.

Establishing a vision for the project isn't always clear for everyone involved. Which direction should they go? How will the changes affect the functionality of the church? Will the congregation embrace the change? Ideally the answers to these questions will release those involved in the decision making process, giving them an opportunity to move forward. Hopefully they won't abandon the project prematurely only to face these issues all over again at a later date.

With one church renovation project in Washington, D.C., the end result was a wonderful blend of traditional and contemporary styling. Although this was not the original design plan presented, they soon discovered it was the right plan for them. What made it right?

The project proposal took on many changes before the final contract was written. The structural condition of the existing pews dictated that repair, refinishing and reupholstering them would not be a cost effect choice. Although the original idea was to replace the existing pews with new pews, further studying of the needs for the area in question suggested that upholstered chairs may be the best option. Not only did the chairs allow for more flexibility, but they also increased actual seating space which included areas for wheelchair access. The fluid lines of the upholstered chair created a visually uniform look and added contours and curve to the large open space. In addition to the comfort of the new chairs, church members welcomed the ease of navigating between the aisles and rows. To complement the style and design of the new chairs, a new pulpit and communion table was integrated into the proposed plan.

Gaining more room on the platform for choir members and musicians was a high priority for the renovation committee. To accomplish this, the platform was raised and extended to accommodate the same style of seating as the main floor and also allowed areas for the musical equipment to be placed without obstruction to the choir members. Again, moving in a subtle contemporary direction, the platform area was designed not only for functionality, but to complement the main area in style and color.

Something as simple as changing the color of the carpeting and flooring added to the overall success of this project. Although the original colors had been suitable for the design of the church for many years, the trend to move ahead with a more contemporary look and feel was a big step in the right direction. Old tile was replaced with marble for a more cost effective solution giving a high sheen to the entrance way leading to the sanctuary. Carpeting placed strategically and artfully in the foyer gave a formal look to this area and offered ease of maintenance.

As lighting was redesigned and integrated into the plan and walls given a fresh coat of paint, the vision is now realized and the end product speaks to the long hours of hard work and decision-making. Not all projects will move along easily, some may hit detours along the way, but it is important to plan carefully and communicate individual goals and needs. When a church recognizes the importance of relying on experience and knowledge in the area of renovations, the project will not only move ahead smoother, but hopefully will move ahead on schedule. For a moving and growing church, this is a key for success. Finding the right company to carry out this vision was the first step in the right direction. Now this vision is realized and the church will enjoy its newly renovated space for many years to come.

Fredrick Taggart is president of Fredrick & Emily's Church Renovations, www.fredrickandemilys.com.

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