Churches can get more for less with metal construction systems

Highly durable metal buildings can reduce energy costs and offer adaptable facilities.

Charles Praeger

Two churches that opted for facilities designed and constructed with metal building systems believe that they met and exceeded wise stewardship by the choices they made.

The contemporary churches of Heartland Vineyard Church, Cedar Falls, IA, and Life Center Foursquare Church, Spokane, WA, are the faith homes of a few thousand congregants each Sunday.

Both church facilities were designed with cost-efficient, highly durable metal building systems. Both cut energy costs over the lifecycle of the buildings — an advantage that is due to the ability to maximize insulation in the metal wall panels.

The two churches also benefited from the clear-span structural framing systems, free of interior columns, which provide large open spaces with unobstructed sight lines. The building structures were designed by the metal building manufacturer’s engineering group. The church’s building team had input in this phase — just like a traditional design process.

Minimal construction time

Materials were ordered and then pre-cutting, welding and initial assembly was completed at the factory. Once the materials arrived on the church site, construction time was minimized. Workers bolted the customized structural, roof and wall systems together for an exact fit. As much as four months in time and costs were shaved from the project for Heartland.

The time it takes for a metal building to be ready for occupancy is one-half to one-third less than traditional construction. This provides hard-to-pass-up savings and is the reason many churches opt for metal building systems today.

“We got more footage at a lower price,” says Bill Kafflen, assistant executive pastor for Life Center. “We could have had a 42,000-square-foot traditional building for $20 million, but we got a 78,000-square-foot building for $9 million.”

Likewise, Heartland moved into a 58,000-square-foot building for $6 million, including land. The cost per-square-foot was less than $85, compared to the $130 to $180 range for other types of construction, says Heartland’s architect, Dan Levi.

Reduces structural deterioration

The church leaders also value their buildings’ longevity. The life span of materials used in metal building systems is typically much longer than those in other building types, from roofs to walls to frames. Using metal materials reduces structural deterioration, rotting and insect damage.

Choosing steel buildings and making other energy-saving and environmentally-friendly decisions are green considerations. And while decision-makers at both churches were unfamiliar with it at the time, they expressed happiness in being good stewards by choosing recycled materials, curbing energy consumption and reducing construction time and costs.

The leadership at Heartland Vineyard didn’t want their new structure to look like a church but wanted it to seem more like a community center, says Levi. “I immediately went to a metal building because it permitted a more contemporary design.”

When worshipers arrived for the first service on Easter Sunday 2006, they stepped inside a building with exterior walls with two complimentary vertical lines creating an attractive asymmetrical look. Like a set of boxes, the walls seem to lean out from the perpendicular roof. The colors are burgundy and off-white.

Multiple areas are included

Inside, they saw a 1,000-seat stadium seating sanctuary, a 220-seat chapel, eight children’s classrooms, a youth area, three adult classes, a general office area, a kitchen, a 90-seat café and a bookstore. A two-story atrium separates the sanctuary from the office area. A curtain wall of glass was also placed in the café. Average attendance each weekend is 1,400 for the 18-year-old congregation.

The wall panels had an artificial stucco finish on the outside, but builder and church member Fred Rose preferred to talk about what was inside the panel more. The metal building walls at Heartland include 10 inches of bonded rigid insulation, providing insulation R values of 20 when 16 is usual for traditional structures.

Heartland likes its roof choice too. Their standing seam metal roof with R-30 insulation helps make this an energy efficient building. Metal roofs can also be provided in cool coating systems that reflect the sun rays and help to reduce heating and cooling costs. “We really liked the idea of a metal roof,” says Dave Hartman, the church’s director of operations. “The building is low maintenance, withstanding the prospect of hail or wind damage, lasts a lot longer and can be recycled and not put in a dump.”

Heartland cannot compare energy costs because the church previously worshiped in a brick, multi-building site and previously used gas heat instead of electrical. The church still attributes a 10-percent energy bill decrease to its metal building choice.

Reduce energy consumption

Good exposure to daylight also helps with energy consumption. Heartland had the designer add 20 to 30 percent more windows and install room sensors to automatically shut off lights when unused. Load-bearing steel frames allow exterior walls to have a variety of windows and allow placement wherever desired. Since metal buildings are easy to expand, the church is currently considering Phase 2: the addition of a gym and a larger children’s area.

Comparing energy savings in the new facility with the former one is difficult since the previous site for Life Center was several separate buildings, increasing the scale of heating and cooling them. The church did get an energy rebate of $20,000 from its local utilities provider because of obvious choices in the new structure for conserving energy.

Completed in September 2005, the 78,000-square-foot building includes a 1,800-seat sanctuary, two floors of church offices, classrooms and a large multi-purpose room. The contemporary design has plenty of windows, allowing for electrical lighting savings. Its insulated metal panel walls went up quickly, which was appreciated by workers toiling during the winter months. “We’re proud of it,” says Kafflen. “We put it in a brand-new residential development with homes selling from $400,000 to $1 million.”

Easy to expand

Easy expansion also appealed to Life Center. When the congregation moved in, attendance was at 2,500, but today it is 4,000. Since metal building systems can be re-configured without impacting the core, Life Center will be able to double its seating at minimal costs and disruption.

Builder Rob Elmer of Elmer Construction, Spokane, WA, says Life Center was doubly blessed. Not only did they get a new building with a lot more space for the money, but they got the advantage of future no-hassle expansion.

Interior partitions are not load bearing, allowing them to be configured and reconfigured any way desired. Removal of end walls or sidewalls, new framework and additional wall and roof panel additions are uncomplicated procedures that can be accomplished in a short period of time and with a minimal investment.

Metal building technology continues to create beautiful houses of worship around the nation. An equally appealing fact is that metal buildings were already green long before green was cool.

Charles Praeger is the assistant general manager of the Metal Building Manufacturers Association, Cleveland, OH. []


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