With over 50 years of experience and hundreds of religious and non-profit projects completed, Heimsath Architects has learned a lot about the process of building with groups and community volunteers. More personally, most of my 15 plus years of experience have been spent understanding groups, helping them find their vision, and shepherding that vision into physical form.
One thing I know is that being on a Building Committee is a time consuming and often under appreciated job. The countless hours spent worrying and discussing about how to best steward the donated funds is a monumental but essential task. We really do appreciate all those volunteers who give up their personal time to provide their knowledge and experience to help get the project completed.
Since many volunteers do not come from construction backgrounds, I am offering these 10 pointers to make your life easier. Even if you are used to construction, building with a committee is an art form in itself, so these pointers should help you as well:
1. There will be problems:
Design and Construction of a building (especially renovations) is an immensely complex process that can easily span 2 years. Issues are going to come up.
2. Contingencies are crucial:
Some of the issues that come up are going to cost extra money, plan for the unplanned by having funds set aside. Having a contingency allows for more potential solutions when problems arise
3. Good Business = Good Project:
Treat those you hire, those who volunteer, and your fellow committee member with honesty, respect, and forthrightness and things will go smoother.
Get our complete list of 10 Things to Know for Building Committees, and a more in-depth discussion:
I frequently tell people I have the greatest job ever! I help groups imagine the places they most cherish, then I help create them. Often, I'm asked what is different about designing for a church, or temple or synagogue. How are these sacred places different than an average commercial or residential project? I offer a short list of several issues that are unique to buildings for congregations and worshipping communities, and what makes them all so very special:
How Do We Create A Sacred Place?
Architects and builders specify all sorts of things, but there's no way to specify holiness. We work with many faith traditions, and each has some specific space or arrangement to accommodate their rituals or liturgies. These are generally quite simple and leave significant latitude for how they are to be accommodated. But even once the ritual needs are met, there's no way to guarantee the awesome experience that is felt by a visitor to a truly holy or sacred environment.
My advice to each group is to start with the traditions and spaces they have experienced in the past then stretch to envision other opportunities. Though not a guarantee, I believe it is important to state that there is a goal for making a place of sacred worship. Once this is clearly articulated, many subtle opportunities may be discovered and become part of the project.
How Does A Community Participate?
How? In every way possible! The entire congregation or worshipping community is the whole reason for building. Of course, that doesn't mean the process is a free-for-all. I will often count the congregation members and remind the group that we aren't building 250 or 800 or 2000 different buildings. Rather, the process is all about synthesizing the energy and creativity of the community into a single, focused design. Through a step-by-step process tailored to the needs of each group, we are able to time and again, create amazing solutions that meet a wide range of functions and aspirations.
How Will We Pay For It?
Churches, Temples and Synagogues get built by successful fundraising and realistic phasing. A church or worshipping community typically can't do everything at once. Many groups start with debt from property purchases or previous building programs. There are a very few opportunities for outside groups or foundations to participate in the fundraising, but these are quite the exception. For the most part, communities need to set challenging, but achievable goals for a capital fundraising and then work closely with banks or other financing agencies.
Determining a realistic budget and phase of work isn't a fixed formula. Some groups look at the congregation's annual budget and anticipate a capital campaign of one, two or even four times the amount. Others look at the motivation factor. A Sanctuary or worship space may generate more interest than a classroom or parish hall. Financing may require approvals from a denomination committee or other approving agency. Working closely with the architects and contractors, the more definition of the overall size and scope of the project, the easier it is to successfully raise and secure funding.