By Andres Rivera
Budget is always a concern with any new construction project, perhaps even more so these days for Catholic communities seeking to build a new worship space.
A new “model church” concept developed by the Diocese of San Bernardino, however, is paving the way for a large capacity sanctuary to be an affordable option for many parish communities in the diocese. Parish building projects have always been subject to approval by the diocesan bishop. Moving forward, parishes will be required to use the new design template as a condition of that approval.
The good news is that the model church concept can help to cut construction costs nearly in half. Diocesan construction officials say the secret weapon is pre-engineered steel construction.
About 90 percent of the churches in the diocese were designed and constructed to have a horizontal span of 40 to 60 feet. Breaking away from conventional methods of building such as wooden framing and masonry, the new concept for model churches in the diocese will have a horizontal span of 125 feet, creating a potential blank canvas inside the building’s shell.
Using pre-engineered steel construction, the building can have a larger span and architects can design the inside of the church any number of ways, because the interior walls will not be responsible for holding up the roof, says David Meier, Director of the diocesan Office of Construction and Real Estate.
“We are providing the concept; the parish has a lot of ability to make it their own church,” Meier said. “We are providing cost savings at the most important part, which is the structure.”
The new design concept has already been piloted at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, which opened a new 12,500 square foot church in June. Construction costs for the church building were about $1.3 million.
Parishes are free to add or subtract details and architectural elements as their budgets allow. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Winchester, for example, will be utilizing the new concept in the construction of their new sanctuary, adding architectural embellishments to the front façade and incorporating removable walls inside the sanctuary for the possibility of creating meeting rooms when Mass is not being celebrated.
The same building concept can also be applied to multipurpose buildings, social halls or school buildings. The structures feature metal roofs and substantial insulation throughout the building, which will help with cooling and heating.
“In conventional construction you are limited by load bearing walls or columns; here there are no limitations,” Meier said.
While it costs in excess of $200 per square foot to construct a 900-seat sanctuary using conventional methods, it could cost about $140 per square foot or less using the pre-engineered steel building. The St. Charles church building cost about $106 per square foot to build.
“Site improvements are costly to implement and are always changing,” Meier said, referring to parking, landscaping, utilities, street improvements and other elements of a building project. “They bring up the total costs of construction. We need to be diligent and keep the cost of the structure down.”
Many of the church buildings constructed throughout the diocese in the 1940’s and 50’s were built using the most affordable concept at the time.
“This was after World War II, where no one had a lot of money,” Meier said. “It’s like that now. We are drawing from the past and doing what the diocese has done before.”
The diocese looked at several materials and design options before selecting the pre-engineered steel building as a model.
“We looked at concrete tilt up, conventional wood framing and masonry, but we kept coming back to the pre-engineered steel building as the best value for our model church,” David Meier said.
Several parishes are looking to use the model concept in the construction of new sanctuaries. Queen of Angels Parish in Riverside is currently working on a design using the model church concept.
Other parishes considering the concept as a possibility include: St. Mary Parish, Fontana; St. George, Fontana; Our Lady of Guadalupe Sanctuary, Mecca; St. Anthony Parish, San Jacinto; Our Lady of Hope, San Bernardino; St. Mary Magdalene, Corona; Blessed John XXIII, Fontana and St. Patrick, Moreno Valley.
“I’m excited to see how all the designs will turn out,” Meier said.