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Second Baptist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

For William Henry Harris, redesigning a new church campus often means thinking outside the box. No place is it more apparent that at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Harris, president of Wm. Henry Harris & Associates, an architecture firm in the same town, was asked to draw up a plan to not only increase the seating capacity in the church sanctuary but also add a family life center and administrative offices. Harris drew up a master plan that would meet all the church's needs as well as address drop-off/pick-up issues.

Harris first looked at the sanctuary. The church already had a sizeable worship area with seating for more than 700 people.

It was a traditional sanctuary that was rectangular in shape with straight pews that looked head-on toward the altar. Increasing the seating could be addressed in a number of ways, but Harris took a creative approach.

"What we did was to redesign the sanctuary so that it was curved, and seating in the worship area would take on a fan-type of shape," he said. "So, we basically blew out the sides of the church and added another 400 seats to make it seat about 1,100."

Harris also thrust out the existing pulpit area so there would be better sight lines for everyone. Then he provided seating in the round with curved pews, changing the rectangle-shaped sanctuary to a fan-shaped one.

This led to a redesign of the pulpit area.

Previously, the organ was on the floor with the pews. In the redesign, the organ was put up on the platform and set opposite a grand piano. Organ pipes increased in number, and seating for the choir was enlarged.  

Next, Harris addressed the church's need for a new family life center. This two-story building was positioned behind the church. It included a regulation-sized basketball court for recreational use, as well as a stage and platform area for events. The second level also provided classrooms for the middle and high school kids.

Another wing for administrative offices was added. The offices were designed in a series of suites with four to five offices in each suite. There was also a suite for the pastor's office with a big conference room.

The wing also had classrooms, as well as a huge choir suite that mimicked the same layout as the sanctuary's choir loft. To the side of that practice area was a handbell suite large enough to store handbells and still allow room for practice.

Entering the church also posed a challenge. Members parked behind the church and entered through a back entrance or walked outside to the front of the sanctuary. Harris resolved this by adding a connector piece to the rear of the sanctuary with a large covered pick-up and drop-off area.

This two-story commons space had large windows to allow a generous flooding of natural light. From the commons area, the family life center was on the left, the administrative offices were straight ahead, and a foyer leading to the sanctuary was on the right. This foyer allowed members to walk from the reach of the church, down either side, and enter the newly renovated sanctuary space.

In total, about 70,000 square feet was added to the church, increasing its total square footage to about 180,000. Cost for construction was about $9 million.

All exterior building elements were matched with the previous buildings, such as the rust-colored brick and the traditional white trim.

"It's very typical of Georgian style architecture," Harris said. "We wanted it to be a seamless addition, so we matched the true colonial style prevalent in the main sanctuary. It is very reminiscent of Jeffersonian design."

Since the project would require the church to move out of its sanctuary for several months, Harris built the new family life center first. Once the family life center was completed, services were moved there as construction began in the sanctuary. The entire project took more than two years to complete.

During the construction process, another blessing arose. Harris was also designing a new worship project for Gravel Hill Baptist Church, also in Richmond. The church was tight on funds but needed to buy pews. Harris arranged for leadership at Second Baptist and Gravel Hill to connect, and Second Baptist graciously donated their old pews to the other church.

Since the major construction and renovation of Second Baptist, the church has seen many blessings of its own. The family life center houses a popular Upward Bound basketball program, which has grown from about 125 children to nearly 900.

There are always activities in the center, and overall membership is now close to 2,000. The church exclaims, "The future of Second Baptist Church is indeed encouraging."

William Henry Harris & Associates, Inc., Architects & Planners, in Richmond, Virginia, was founded in 1983 to serve the churches in central and Tidewater Virginia. It offers complete design services for planning requirements, ranging from programming and master planning through complete project design and construction contract administration, www.harrisarchitects.org.

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