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First Baptist Church of Springfield
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The heart of First Baptist Church of Springfield, Missouri, is in its people, who since 1852 have sought to glorify God through relevant and reverent worship, working missions around the world, and planting more than a dozen churches. First Baptist, however, has remained in downtown Springfield, in a traditional church building constructed in the 50s.

Through the years, growth has slowed and membership has aged, but the traditional worship services remain well attended by membership. When the sanctuary began to show signs of wear, church leadership knew it was time for an update. They called on Sapp Design Associates Architects to renovate the Sanctuary and Lobby.  Jim Stufflebeam, vice president at SDA developed the designs for the renovations. Terry West with Interior Planning Consultants assisted with the interior design.

"The original facility was built in the Georgian colonial architectural style," explains John McNabb, project architect. "They wanted to keep with that traditional architectural aesthetic but they also wanted the space to look more modern and function better with today's services. We had to do a balancing act to determine how to make the sanctuary more modern but at the same time the design needed to embrace the original Georgian Colonial architectural style."

The updates would include not just a visual makeover, but also the spaces were modified to make them more functional.  New audio and visual components would be added; however, the natural acoustics would need to be preserved.

As part of the lobby renovation, handicap accessibility into the building needed to be addressed.

"The simple way would have been to put giant ramps everywhere, but that would impede the aesthetics of everything," McNabb says. "We had to be creative with the spaces to meet code requirements as well as keep the visual integrity of the building."

The congregation also did not anticipate much growth in membership, so there was no need to increase seating in the sanctuary, and even some seats could be sacrificed in pursuit of more comfortable surroundings for congregants.

With these points in mind, architects focused on retaining the colonial detailing and white woodwork surrounding the interior of the sanctuary. The original platform was only about 220 square feet and not very flexible for various performances and venues. The platform was tripled in size to 700 square feet, by moving the choir rail back, and raising and opening the organ and piano alcoves to the main platform; the steps were also pushed out about five feet and reshaped to a soft curve. The modesty walls were rebuilt to be easier to remove, and with center access to the choir, and to maintain the original style. The rails at the organ and piano niches were replaced with butt-joint glass rails to provide a more open look to the entire platform.

The original seats were theater style folding seats, with dark burgundy velvet upholstery, which many members had grown accustomed to and were hesitant to see change. But many also felt that pews would allow families to sit together with small children and would accommodate larger physiques. The solution was a combination or hybrid pew, with folding seats and arm rests much like the theater seats, but with a continuous pew-like back. The side sections and rear-most sections were replaced with standard bench pews. From the foyer, you cannot tell the difference, and the stained trim and white end panels look as if they were always intended.

The dated red carpet was replaced with cool green carpeting, which covers the aisles and the platform steps,  and with the new pew fabrics in a soft neutral, the result is a much more friendly, and quiet, atmosphere. The soft surfaces of carpet are balanced by hard surfaces of white travertine-like vinyl tile under the pews and atop the platform. This helps balance the acoustics for congregational singing within the sanctuary.

Construction took less than a year and was completed in 2013.

Sapp Design Associates Architects, based in Springfield, Missouri, seeks to be the catalyst for your vision by simply embracing the culture and ideas of your organization, www.SDAarchitects.com.

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