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Mount Calvary Baptist Church
By: Kevin Hutchings

In December 2010, Mount Calvary Baptist Church should have been preparing for Christmas celebrations. Instead, the vibrant congregation found itself without a house of worship. That month, a fire gutted this National Baptist church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

No one was injured in the blaze, but the fire damaged a recently completed multi-purpose area used for Bible study and other church events. The church sanctuary, built in the 1960s, was a total loss — save one very important symbol.

“The only part of the sanctuary left standing was the steeple and our cross,” said the Rev. Leroy Franklin, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist.

The leadership vowed to rebuild. In the meantime, a local middle school opened its auditorium to the church for Sunday worship the week of the fire. The following Sunday, Mount Calvary worshipped in the gym inside the church’s Life Center.

Other than the smell of smoke and ash, the Life Center was undamaged, thanks to a firewall that JOSEPH Construction Company, Inc., a Knoxville design-build firm, and Butler Builder installed when the center was constructed in 2006. Because the Life Center was still intact, it gave the church a temporary place of worship as well as a place to deliberate about how the new sanctuary would look and function.

The Life Center is a Butler building with an MR-24 roof system. The firewall, and the fact that the Life Center is a metal building with a metal roof, were big factors in avoiding the additional damage.

“Basically, all the damage stopped at the firewall,” said Justin Hall, project manager with JOSEPH Construction. “From that point on, we didn’t need to do any cleanup work or renovations.”

JOSEPH Construction also handles disaster cleaning and restoration, and after the fire, it removed the rubble and cleaned up the smoke and water damage.

When it came time to rebuild the sanctuary, Mount Calvary again enlisted JOSEPH Construction. Church leaders were impressed with the quality of the Life Center and knew JOSEPH Construction had extensive knowledge of the church infrastructure. All these factors led the church to request Butler products and systems for the sanctuary.

Construction began in May 2012, about 18 months after the fire. Mount Calvary wanted an updated sanctuary and meeting space to accommodate its steady growth. The church already had two Sunday services and was looking to add worshipper capacity.

Church officials wanted more street exposure. The old sanctuary sat atop a hill, but the bustling church wasn’t very visible from the road or from the bottom of the hill. JOSEPH Construction and Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects Inc., a Knoxville-based architecture firm, recommended that the new sanctuary face east, making it shorter and wider. The previous sanctuary pointed west, and it was longer and narrower. Adding lights around the exterior and on the cross increased its nighttime visibility.

Not only did changing the sanctuary’s direction make it more visible from the street, it also gave Mount Calvary room to grow. The new choir stand holds 53 choristers, up from 30; the pews hold 500 worshippers, up from approximately 410.

For the exterior design of the church, JOSEPH Construction recommended the StylWall II flat wall system not only for its superior insulating properties but also because it allows for application of almost any conventional finish on the interior. The sanctuary features interior brick and wood paneling veneer that is applied almost like wallpaper. Metal ceiling clouds are suspended in a radius pattern around the sanctuary. A falling water tile mosaic sits above the altar. All together, the design elements give the new sanctuary the contemporary look Mount Calvary wanted.

Designers used an end wall extension off the back side of the new sanctuary to give Mount Calvary back its eight classrooms damaged in the fire, as well as three restrooms the space didn’t have before. The classrooms get plenty of use: on Sundays for Bible study; on Wednesdays for specialty group gatherings, such as ministries for single and married people; grief care; and other group events and training.

Although the church deliberated for more than a year on the design and layout of the new sanctuary and classrooms, once construction began, the goal was to finish the work quickly. JOSEPH Construction credits Butler building systems with helping keep them on schedule and on budget.

“By using systems construction, we got the main structure up and the roof installed quickly, enabling us to start tie-in work to connect the structures early,” Hall said. “It was a great help to our overall timeline.”

JOSEPH Construction and Butler also collaborated on solving the challenge of connecting the new sanctuary to the classroom space and Life Center. A single-story steeple, open all the way to the roof, was integrated into the Butler frame to connect the sanctuary together. A hallway made with Butler framing connected the sanctuary with the Life Center.

The new Mount Calvary sanctuary was dedicated in July 2013 at a Sunday afternoon service, in time for the church’s 100th anniversary. Many people from outside the congregation attended.

Second-guessing about design decisions is common with any project, but Mount Calvary and JOSEPH Construction agree this task was different.

“When constructing a church, you not only want to please church officials, but the entire congregation. It sometimes can be challenging to get everyone’s blessing,” Hall said. “The fact that it went so smoothly is a testament to the thought Mount Calvary put into the design up front, because they established a lot of agreement on what they wanted to do.”

From collaborating on the Life Center to bringing Mount Calvary’s sanctuary back from the ashes, the church and JOSEPH Construction have developed a unique bond over the years that goes beyond contractor and customer.

Kevin Hutchings is the training manager for Butler Manufacturing and is responsible for product, builder management and sales training, www.butlermfg.com.

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Religious Product News