Construction inspired by the faithful

Filed under: Daily News,News |
Construction might have slowed to a recessionary crawl in large urban business districts, at suburban office campuses or in industrial parks, but faith-based work continues to multiply like the proverbial “loaves and fishes.”

In the Pikes Peak region, a downtown rectory for St. Mary’s parish is in the works, and the 16,400-square-foot North Springs Alliance Church on Chapel Hills Drive opened during 2006.

Temple Shalom is planning its third expansion/remodel phase, while the First Methodist Church is in the midst of a $1.7 million sanctuary remodel and church update.

During 2005, Springs Calvary Church founder Barry Farah fashioned a former Tiffany Square shopping center movie theater into a worship center — and because of growth, has already completed his first expansion.

Woodmen Valley Chapel opened a second facility, Woodmen Heights Community Church, near Marksheffel and Woodmen roads.  Funded by a churchwide campaign that began during 2002, the multi-million dollar, multi-phase project will take several years to complete, according to church officials.

Comprised of almost 800 churches or worship centers, the Pikes Peak region’s faith-based community also wields a significant economic impact. While religious organizations are tax-exempt, they generate tens of millions of dollars annually in upgrade, remodel, expansion, new construction and historic renovation projects.

According to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, nearly 300 permits for remodel, expansion or new construction have been issued since Jan. 1, 2008.

But the process can be a slow one.

In some cases, larger churches like Calvary United Methodist have the wherewithal to qualify for construction loans through national investment banks.  Most, however, usually have to raise money from their “stockholders,” in three- to five-year campaigns during which congregants, parishes and devoted followers pledge their support.

Because of the incremental nature of fundraising and oversight, often by volunteer committees or boards, the process can take as long as five or 10 years, said Gary Larson, principal architect for The Larson Group.

About 60 percent to 70 percent of his firm’s work involves faith-based projects, usually ranging from $2 million to $18 million. The Larson Group’s portfolio includes facility design for the North Springs Alliance Church, the Woodmen Valley Chapel and Springs Calvary in Colorado Springs, and dozens of other faith-based projects throughout the country.

“The real key to success in this field is to match a congregation’s vision with what they can afford,” he said, adding that architects — and occasionally contractors — really need to lead, and guide, such discussions.

Experts in design and construction also must help navigate exploratory discussions.  That means determining a way, through smart design and planning, to allow for phased, fundable mini-steps in many cases.

“You’re also dealing primarily with volunteers who are working during the day,” Larson said. “Many are only available in the evening or on weekends.  We usually try to put together a charrette — a focus group that includes architects, contractors, church representatives and financial advisers — to discuss together what the group wants. The process can take as long as five years from the first meeting with an architect through a capital campaign and finally, construction.”

He said that most people outside the faith-based community have little idea about the broad nature of today’s facilities — and what they cost.

“They can be athletic, office and administrative, theaters, media centers as well as educational classrooms and of course, worship areas,” Larson said. “Many churches throughout the U.S. have a major video venue in addition to a main sanctuary or worship center.  Their sermons may be broadcast over T-1 lines to entirely different locations — they’re trying to meet their congregations where they are.  You have to know what your priorities are.”

Vince Colarelli, president of Colarelli Construction, builds Class A office and medical buildings, as well as schools and industrial parks, but he said faith-based projects — for all their complexity and slower pace — are his favorite.

He estimated that he has worked on as many as 20 projects during the past three years, including construction of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in Fountain, St. Peter’s parish education center in Monument and infrastructure work at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church just west of Power’s Boulevard on Scarborough Drive.

Colarelli also teamed with The Larson Group on the North Springs Alliance Church, and advised the group’s board of directors about construction costs, materials and scheduling.

He said that some congregations recently have been interested in “going green.”  And his background allows him to educate church users on the relative value of installing specialized heating and air conditioning systems or low-energy lighting systems.

“You have to look at a church’s load factors — it sits vacant a lot of the time and then has heavy use for a few hours one or two days a week,” Colarelli said. “You also have to look at cost-benefit ratios, and whether what you’re building today can handle expansion in a few years.”

And there is no “one size fits all” construction formula for faith-based jobs.

“You have to make your recommendations very specific, very purposeful,” Colarelli said. “We’ve worked on a variety of Protestant churches, non-denominational centers, Jewish synagogues and several projects for the (Catholic) Diocese of Colorado Springs. Each one is different. Their buildings hold very different spiritual meaning or functionality.”

In a way, a contractor needs to be a “shepherd.”

Colarelli said a board’s voluntary members, for example, are often unaware of the pitfalls of budget overruns or escalating materials costs.

“You’re responsible for representing their best interests — for guiding them through the process so they get the best they can afford and create the spiritual surroundings they need,” he said. “I really embrace that partnership — the guiding, facilitating and protecting.”