Building a Church and Hiring an Architect

[This article was written at the request of Church Business, a national organization providing solutions and strategies for today’s Churches. It appeared originally on their web site.]

How to realize the vision of a new Church

Whether your church needs a new social hall, a renovation, a larger worship space or a totally new complex, you will need to contract with an Architect to realize your dreams. What steps must you follow through that process?

Before actually signing the contract with the Architect, there are several preceding steps. First, the church must identify the needs and define the program with enough specificity to communicate to the Architect. Next, the church should set up a Building Committee and a Finance Committee. The role of the Building Committee is to define and implement the project, while the role of the Finance Committee is to develop a budget, to determine how much money is available for the project and to raise the money. The Building Committee generally serves as the committee to select an Architect.

The Building Committee should then hire a project manager, if the project is large enough to require one. The role of the project manager is often filled by someone on the Building Committee, who then becomes the de facto project team leader.

Selecting an Architect

Develop a list of Architect appropriate for the project. This can be accomplished by asking other church communities who have recently gone through this process, by asking members of the church community if they are aware of any appropriate architectural firms, by asking the local American Institute of Architects for recommendations, and by looking through architectural publications for projects which appear appealing to the Building Committee. The project manager may also be in a position to recommend Architectural Firms.

Contact this list of Architects, either informally or with a formal Request for Proposal. Describe the project to each Architect, giving the initial program or statement of needs and the initial budget, and ask the Architects to submit a statement of interest, a description of their qualifications with a description of their firm and pictures of their work and a list of similar previous projects with contact people and their telephone numbers. At this point , you may ask each Architect to answer any specific questions you may have about their practice.

On the basis of an evaluation of the proposals submitted, select a short list of two to four architects and ask them to appear for an interview. Each interview should last approximately one hour. You may either state the issues you wish the Architect to address during the interview or you may invite each Architect to describe in his own format the strengths of his firm and how he or she might approach the project. About half of the time should be set aside for the Architects presentation and half of the time for questions and informal discussion. In general, the Architects will want to show slides of their work.

On the basis of these interviews and the recommendations you have received from the Architects’ former clients, make a final selection, pending a successful fee and contract negotiation. Thank the other Architects for their interest. You may consider the following criteria in making your selection:

•  Previous experience working on churches and similar projects
•  Experience working on similar size projects
•  Compatibility of design style with church community
•  Recommendations from previous clients
•  Familiarity with local building conditions, contractors and codes
•  Interest in project

If you are interviewing larger Architectural firms, it is important that you understand who in the firm will have the prime responsibility for leading and designing your project and what his or her design qualifications and design style are apart from the qualifications and design style of the firm in general.

Another method of selecting an Architect is to hold a design competition. If your project is large and prominent, Architects may be willing to submit design proposals for no fee. In general, however, you can increase the interest and commitment of Architects by making the competition limited to a small number of firms and compensated. Three would be a reasonable number of firms to which the church should limit the competition, and about ½% of the preliminary construction budget should be reasonable compensation for each competing firm.

Of course, if the church has already worked successfully with an Architect before or if one Architect seems to be the logical choice from the beginning, you may skip this longer Architectural selection process.

The Owner-Architect Agreement Form

The next step is to negotiate and sign a contract with the selected Architect. In general, you should use a contract form supplied by the American Institute of Architects, either form B141-1997 orB151-1997. These Agreement forms spell out in detail the responsibilities of each party. You should read them carefully and discuss any questions you may have about the contract with the Architect.

The first part of the Agreement describes what the Architect does as Basic Services and what the phases of his Basic Services are. Briefly, these are Schematic Design, Design Development, Working Drawings, Bidding or Negotiation and Construction. It is recommended that the Agreement be supplemented with a requirement that the Architect and the Church agree in writing when one phase is completed and when the Architect is to proceed into the next phase. This will avoid the not uncommon situation where the Owner has “sort of “ agreed to proceed with a particular design, or at least has not objected to proceeding. On the basis of this partial agreement, the Architect may plunge ahead, incurring additional fees, before the Owner is properly committed. The phases of the Architect’s Basic Services are described later.

The next part of the Agreement describes the Architect’s Additional Services. These are the services which the Architect typically does not provide as part of Basic Services, such as a traffic analysis or a survey of the trees and shrubs on the site. A lack of mutual understanding about these Additional Services can cause conflict between the Architect and the Church. Read, understand, and discuss this section of the Agreement with your Architect thoroughly. If necessary, modify any of these terms to your mutual agreement. Basically, this section spells out those services which the Architect will not do for the agreed upon fee as part of Basic Services. The Architect will charge more money for these services. If the church expects some of these services to be provided by the Architect as part of Basic Services without an additional fee, then this is the time to clarify that point and modify the Agreement if necessary.

The Agreement then spells out the responsibilities of the Owner, the church in this case. The primary responsibilities of the church will be to furnish the appropriate information, such as surveys, and to respond in a timely manner to the Architect’s ideas and questions and to pay the Architect. Next, the Construction Cost and the responsibility for the Construction Cost is spelled out. This is another important aspect of the Agreement, of which a lack of understanding can cause conflict between the church and the Architect. The Architect does not and cannot guarantee that a project of a specified scope and quality will be achievable for a specified budget. Agreement form B151-1997 does offer the church a method of requiring the Architect to work within a budget, but this agreement must be set out in writing and both parties must understand how it operates. The Architect can be required to modify his drawings at no additional cost if an agreed upon fixed limit of Construction Cost is exceeded, but the modifications will entail revisions to the scope and quality of the project, as required to reduce the Construction Cost.

There are miscellaneous legal clauses in the Agreement form, including an Arbitration clause and a Mediation clause. If the church is uncomfortable with this method of dispute resolution, then these sections should be eliminated or modified.

Compensation for the Architect

Finally, the Agreement form addresses the amount and type of compensation the Architect will receive. There are three methods of compensation. First, the church can pay the Architect on an hourly basis. Since this leaves the amount of the fee open ended, churches naturally shy away from this method. Second, the two parties can agree on a fixed fee. This method is most appropriate if the scope of the project is well established. Frequently, however, projects tend to grow and shrink through the design process, making the fixed fee an unworkable method. The third method is a percent of the Construction Cost. This method puts a limit on the Architect’s fee which is readily understandable to the church and provides flexibility in the event that the project grows or shrinks. Although the Construction Cost is not a perfectly accurate measure of the extent of the Architect’s services, it is the best measure which has been conceived, and for this reason is often used.

If you cannot negotiate successful terms with your first choice Architect, approach the next Architect on your short list. You may learn about how much Architects generally charge for their services by discussing this with other church groups, or similar organizations which have recently gone through this process;. In general, you should expect to spend between 6% and 12% of the construction cost for the services of the Architect. This will include the normal services of the structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers.

At this point , you should also select those consultants which you will require which are not typically provided by the Architect. Following are a list of some of these consultants:

•  Civil engineer
•  Landscape architect
•  Acoustic consultant
•  Cost consultant

These disciplines may be contracted directly to the Architect, or may be hired and contracted to the church. A civil and landscape consultant are important especially for larger suburban or rural projects. An acoustic consultant is important particularly for any project affecting the worship space. A cost consultant is most important for larger projects or any project where early and accurate estimates of the construction cost are necessary.

Programming and Site Selection

Before proceeding with the Basic Services, as described in the AIA Agreement, the Architect may be asked to do the following tasks. First, a formal program must be developed. Most projects will require the statement of needs or preliminary program be translated into a specific list of rooms or spaces with sizes. The Architect is in a position either to do or to assist the church in this task. The items of the program should be put in order of priority, in the event that there are not sufficient funds to construct the entire project. Specific requirements of each space should be identified. The program should not be considered as fixed. As the church and the Architect investigate various design options, the program may be modified.

Second, the Architect may be asked to participate in the site selection. If the project requires a new site, this is the time to consider which site to purchase, because the Architect can be enormously helpful in evaluation various site options. Often the church has already chosen and bought the site by the time the Architect is selected. This can lead to mistakes which might otherwise have been avoided with the insight of the Architect.

These two services, programming and site selection, are defined by the AIA Agreement as Additional Services. The Architect may, however, be willing to provide these services as part of Basic Services, depending on how complicated and time consuming they appear to be.

Basic Architectural Services

As described above, the first phase of the Architect’s Basic Services is Preliminary or Schematic Design. Based on the program and the site constraints, the Architect is now in a position to investigate, develop and present schematic design options. The Architect should present several different approaches to the project for consideration and discussion by the Building Committee. This is an interactive process, involving both the Architect and The Building Committee. It is at this point that the net should be cast as widely as possible in considering all of the ways the project can be designed. The first series of options developed by the Architect may not be acceptable to the Building Committee, but may lead to discussion which generates a more appropriate option. Both the Architect and Building Committee should learn a great deal during this phase.

The selection of the preferred scheme may be made entirely by the Building Committee. An alternative method preferred by some churches is for the Building Committee to narrow the choice of options and then open the discussion and selection process up to the entire church community.

Once a preferred design option is selected, a preliminary cost estimate can be developed. This is best accomplished by a separate cost consultant, . General Contractors can fulfill the role of a cost consultant. For smaller projects, the Architect can fill this role. For larger projects, it is best if an independent cost consultant separate from the Architect evaluates the cost. If the estimate comes in too high, this is the time when the scope of the project can be modified to accommodate the budget. At this point, the finance committee can refine the budget for the project.

It is at this point when many churches initiate the fund raising process. The fund raising may be started earlier, but many churches find it easier to raise funds once the preliminary design with a cost estimate has been identified. The Architect can be asked to participate in the fund raising by providing preliminary plans and perspectives and by meeting with members of the church to describe the project and answer questions. There are professional fund raisers and facilitators who can assist the church in this effort. This effort is typically led by the finance committee. The Architect can temporarily stop design services while fund raising proceeds until enough money is raised or committed for the church to feel comfortable in proceeding with the design.

Next, the Architect proceeds into Design Development. During this stage, the Architect further refines the design, working closely with the Building Committee. At the end of this phase, an updated cost estimate may be obtained, particularly if the design has changed significantly during this development process.

The next phase undertaken by the Architect is Construction Documents. Once the design has been fully developed, the Architect begins these detailed drawings. These drawings have three purposes. First, to provide the map by which the contractor builds the project. Second they are used to obtain the building permit. And third, these drawings, together with the specifications or written description and the agreement form, serve as the contract between the church and the general contractor. Consequently, they are often called Contract Documents.

It is during this phase that the Architect coordinates the work of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural consultants as well as the civil and landscape engineers.

The next phase is bidding and negotiation. This is the phase during which the contractor may be selected by one of two different procedures. Either the project may be let out to competitive bidding. Or the contract may be directly negotiated with a pre selected contractor. During this phase, the Architect assists the church in selecting the contractor and orchestrates the signing of the Owner-Contactor Agreement.

The final phase of the Architect’s services is the Construction phase, The Architect’s role is to answer questions from the Contractor, interpret the drawings, monitor and approve the payments, review the shop drawings, and visit the site. During construction, a meeting is generally held every two weeks between the owner, generally represented by the project manager, the Architect and the contractor. Progress is reviewed, shop drawing approvals are monitored, questions brought up and miscellaneous issues are resolved. Minutes should be kept of the meetings and circulated to all parties for approval.