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Bethany Baptist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The members of the historic Bethany Baptist Church in Virginia’s Northern Neck dreamed of expanding to add more fellowship space and upgrading the building to be more handicapped-accessible. But taking the leap to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars was a daunting prospect. Membership had to tackle the prospect gradually.

Bethany Baptist Church was founded in 1878, with new wings and buildings added over the years. Like much of the church architecture of that time in Virginia, Bethany was designed in a traditional Georgian style with rich red brick against white trim. It was important to members that the new addition blend with the traditional style of the church. The church hired William Henry Harris & Associates Architects & Planners, located in nearby Richmond, Virginia, to help them with their vision.

 “I probably got involved with the church eight years ago,” said architect Harry Harris, founder of the firm. “We started with a master plan and went through several schematic generations until we finally got what they wanted at a price they could afford.”

The process began with a workshop to identify all the elements the church wanted in its new addition, as well as their budget. Architects also looked over the property to determine the best place to put the addition. One of the blessings was that the church is set on a sprawling green landscape with a pond, providing plenty of room to expand.

Initially, the church wanted to add a large fellowship hall with space for education.
Because there was plenty of room on both sides of the church, architects first explored building a multi-story building with the fellowship hall on the same level as the sanctuary. But the cost came out too high for the church’s budget.

Harris said, “So then we looked at going with just a single-story building. We cut down on square footage, and that helped bring down the cost.”

Ultimately, the church decided on a 5,000-square-foot fellowship hall that seats 230 people in a dinner setting and much more for presentations. The space is equipped with a warming kitchen as opposed to a commercial kitchen.

“Basically, it’s a kitchen where they can warm and serve potluck meals. A commercial kitchen would have added another $50,000 to $75,000 to the project,” Harris said.

The kitchen can be easily upgraded to a commercial kitchen if the church chooses to do so in the future.

Because of the proximity of the addition, no new bathrooms were needed. The ones in the current building could be used. However, architects did equip the current bathroom with a handicapped-accessible shower.

“They have a lot of youth groups and adult mission groups who come through and can stay at the church without spending money on a hotel,” he said.

The space can also be used for emergency services, such as shelter for people displaced during hurricanes. A new covered drop-off area was also added.

Inside, the fellowship hall has a suspended acoustical ceiling with vinyl and carpet flooring for easy maintenance. The walls are painted and a chair rail, wood trim, and wall sconces carry the building’s colonial style indoors.

It took eight years of planning, praying and fundraising, during which time the economy tanked, delaying the project even more. But there were opportunities to be had.

Construction bids were more competitive. The church was able to build for an impressive $100 per square foot, which is something not a lot of people are seeing, according to Harris.

The church moved forward with the project. It was completed in November 2012, and the church celebrated with a dedication service.

William Henry Harris & Associates, established in 1983, is committed to providing quality architectural and design services for Virginia churches, www.harrisarchitects.org.

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