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Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

Since the day Father John Swistovich came to Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, more than two decades ago, he envisioned a large worship center to accommodate the church's growing congregation. Since the church was founded 50 years ago, worship services were held in a converted gymnasium.

But it wasn't until 1999 that the church began to take a more serious look at expanding. The church's building committee hired an architect who presented preliminary estimates for a new building, but those plans were just too far off budget for the church to consider. And, personnel changes within the church were taking the focus off of a new building.

"Things just weren't falling into place," Father Swistovich said.

He also knew that jumping into a major project like this without a solid plan in place would not be wise.

"That's when we got involved," said Kevin Darnell, owner of M & F Litteken Company, a general contractor based in Wichita Falls that specializes in commercial and industrial properties. 

Darnell worked with church's building committee on concept drawings, and then toured other churches with members to learn their likes and needs. The new worship center not only needed to accommodate current membership, but also had to allow for easy expansion as the parish grew over time.

The other challenge was the budget. The $6 million proposal the architect had presented was just too high.

Darnell responded with a design-build package using pre-engineered metal and steel building products from VP Buildings that shaved a whopping $2 million off the construction cost for the worship center.

The plan included building a cross-shaped 1,000-seat sanctuary that could be expanded on either side to seat 1,500, a 75-seat chapel for smaller services, a spacious vestibule, large choir room, separate bride and groom rooms, restrooms, and a nursery. The plans also provided space for a meeting room for coffee and doughnuts after church.

Darnell also allowed for more cost-effective materials on the building's exterior. Instead of all masonry units, the new building used Dryvit exterior insulation for a clean finish and split face blocks and cast stone around doors and window openings for architectural accents.

Overall, the building would blend with the existing church but stand out in a visually pleasing way. Using Dryvit and stonework "gives the worship center a very nice, striking look but it is less expensive than going masonry all the way," Darnell said.

A covered drive was skewed to match the driveway, and a bell tower was designed with matching wall systems and roof.

The interior of the worship center was designed to be modestly striking with stone columns at the tabernacle.

"The tabernacle is unique as it opens up on both sides and can accommodate both the sanctuary and the chapel," Darnell said.

Another awe-inspiring feature of the worship center is the ceiling. The unique center section has four gables and valleys that allow four wings to give the overall building a cross configuration.

"The walls are a combination of stone veneer, split face masonry units, cast stone and EIFS (exterior insulation and finishing system) wall system. The frames in the sanctuary were enclosed in drywall fur-downs not only to create an architectural feature but were also used to hide ductwork, sprinkler systems, and electrical runs," Darnell said. "The spandrel beams (or exterior beams that extend from column to column and often carry an exterior wall load) supported the wall framing system were furred out to match the roof fur-downs."

As plans came together for the new church, membership began focusing on a way to pay for the new building. Everyone was in favor of moving forward, and in 2008, nearly a decade after the church took the first steps toward making the new worship center a reality, construction began.

Less than a year after the project began, the project was completed and the parish had the additional blessing of having the entire project paid off.

"We have been in it for a year now and we are very satisfied," Father Swistovich said. "It is a beautiful building with a welcoming atmosphere, and everyone has been very awestruck by it."

Not only is the worship center's design applauded by the parishioners and members of the community, it also won the 2010 Best in Category award for churches from VP Buildings.

It took 23 years for Father Swistovich to get the worship center built, but he said the wait was well worth it in the end.

"It just happened at the right time and in the right place," he said.

M & F Litteken Co. has completed projects as design-build contractors, general contractors, and construction managers-at-risk in north Texas and southern Oklahoma, www.mflitteken.com.

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