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From Sheds to Sanctuaries
Re-engineered and redesigned: Metal structures prove their mettle

Copyright © 2003 by Quentin Wagenfield

Do metal buildings raise visions of rusty Quonset huts or machine sheds? Do you raise your eyebrow at the thought of a metal-building sanctuary? If so, you'll be surprised to know that yesteryear's ugly-duckling structures are now re-engineered and redesigned into today's beautiful metal buildings. Original advantages of easy and fast erection are still there, but now with masonry, insulation, rust-resistant color panels and other  features, buildings can look like conventional "stick-built" structures.

Metal for Church Buildings?

Are they suitable for church structures? The answer is a resounding "yes." Metal buildings are especially adaptable to the simplicity trend in church design, and to multipurpose buildings that serve as activity center, gym, and sanctuary. These require high ceilings and post-free interiors, both easily and cheaply obtained in metal buildings.

Two Winterville, North Carolina, churches, Faith Assembly of God and The Church of the Open Door, show the wide range of sanctuaries available in metal construction. Open Door has a multipurpose, unadorned sanctuary with metal panel walls, while Faith Assembly has an ornate structure that looks like a conventionally-built sanctuary. Both churches are pre-engineered steel structures.

Faith Assembly is 31,000 square feet and cost $3.2 million. It includes many architectural features typical of wood-frame churches. The exterior is brick and stucco and the standing-seam roof is copper-colored. The interior walls are sheet rock, and the dropped ceiling is sculptured acoustical tile. The floor is sloped, and upholstered pews are arranged fan-shaped, facing a raised chancel area. Pastor Raymond Hoggard says, "Our metal church structure gave us a larger building at less expense. We emphasize music and worship, and the design gives us a good quality live sound." Architect Dunn designed the building from Hoggard's input. A committee selected the colors, and Hoggard says, "They're absolutely beautiful."

Greg Kennedy, Open Door's pastor, is very pleased with his building. "We've had next to zero problems with it. Our metal church building is 12,000 square feet, expandable to 16,000. The cost was $380,000, much less than conventional. We have nice offices, and when you walk in you don't know you're in a metal building. The sanctuary walls are enclosed to 18 feet and we put in a sound stage and theatrical lights. We're not hung up on church architecture—we're about facilitating ministry."

Our Panel of Experts

We asked a panel of metal building manufacturers to comment on the advantages of their products. They are: Steve Beutler, Doug Jurney, Kevin Klein, Tim McNeely.

Why Metal Church Buildings are Popular

The main reasons for the popularity of metal churches are the cost advantages of pre-engineered construction, the ability to erect them fast, flexibility in construction and use, attractiveness, and safety.

Jurney: "In 2000, 1,975 metal church structures were built. Of these, 70 percent were multipurpose buildings and 30 percent were sanctuaries."

Pre- Engineered Metal & Steel Buildings Cost Advantages

Pre-engineered metal buildings typically cost about half of conventional construction. Reasons for the lower cost are:

Accurate Estimates. Computer-generated building techniques and material designs provide better estimates. Pre-engineered components go together without a problem, preventing expensive construction surprises.

Jurney: "Lower price-per-square-foot churches can use a design-build contractor instead of an architect. He can budget both design and construction pretty close in a very simple, straightforward, cost-control process."

Klein: "Churches can meet with the local contractor, who will do a simple floor plan and elevation, and price the metal building on our computer program. He knows what a slab foundation costs, so he can usually budget a preliminary proposal at no cost. With an architect, you spend days and weeks defining everything and bidding it out, and you still don't know who's the low bidder."

Cheaper to Build. Construction costs are significantly less. There's no welding or fabrication on site, and no waste. You can use unskilled labor; church volunteers can help.

Klein: "On pre-engineered construction, everything's pre-cut, pre-welded, and pre-drilled, so congregations can do a lot of the work themselves. Also, large churches usually have a mason or an electrician who can help. We encourage using church volunteers—it keeps costs down, and it gives the congregation a sense of accomplishment. Even if they hire outside contractors to erect the building or do concrete work, they can do finish work—paint, or put up sheet rock. Besides fund raising, they're getting a little dirty."

Jurney: "Multipurpose buildings are large span buildings. Cost savings result because metal building frames and their technology are very economical for a large span."

Material Is Cheaper. Computer-aided design in pre-engineered construction saves material and cost.

McNeely: "Conventional steel construction uses standard beam depths, sizes, and weights from the mill, and you make the whole beam length big enough to support the highest stress point. In pre-engineered construction, we take flat steel, cut it to a tapered design, and weld it, thus making the beam heavy only where needed. We can make straight beams, if desired, but tapering the steel is where the economy lies."

Only One Structural Component Supplier. One company does the structural design work and furnishes the material components. This simplifies record keeping and eliminates waiting for supplies from different vendors.

McNeely: "The pre-engineering companies actually design the structure—you don't need an independent engineer. The contractor can partner with the pre-engineering company, put together a design, and come back with a package. It's a single source kind of thing. The design-build contractor's team doesn't need a separate architect or structural engineer."

Klein: "We do all the structural engineering, so these fees are included in the project cost. This makes our steel construction costs about 50 percent less than conventional."

Good Energy Efficiency. Components fit together correctly with no gaps. Metal panels include insulation.

McNeely: "We can make it any R-value they want; it's dependent on the climate."

Less Maintenance. Metal roof finishes are very durable, lasting much longer than the 15-20 years of conventional roofs. Finished metal panels clean easily and do not rust or lose their colors. Practically no structural maintenance is required.

Klein: "Our roofs are galvaluminum—they're coated with a compound that's aluminum, zinc, and silicon that makes them last 25 to 30 years. Low upkeep costs mean churches don't need building maintenance funds for a longer time. Metal panel surfaces last 20 to 30 years without maintenance. All you have to do is keep them clean."

Cheaper Insurance. Metal construction reduces fire hazard—insurance companies sometimes reduce rates.

Klein: "There is definitely an insurance advantage over conventional construction. Insurance companies will generally give churches a discount on all-steel construction."

Less Time to Build.
A typical pre-engineered metal building takes less time to build and reduces financing costs.

Klein: "In conventional construction, a 20,000-square-foot building would take three months to build from start to finish. In steel prefab construction, it would take about 30 days. Labor time is reduced 60 days and the congregation can be inside that much sooner."

Metal Church Buildings Great Flexibility

Many sizes can be accommodated. Buildings can be expanded or converted for other uses. They can easily be taken down and set up at a different site.

Klein: "We are very versatile in the sizes we make. Basically, we can manufacture anything from 30 feet to 200 feet wide, 40 feet to 5,000 feet long, and 10 feet to 50 feet tall, in 1-foot increments."

Beutler: "Our structures are very versatile—they often start out as sanctuaries and turn out to be gymnasiums as they grow. We also have excellent application versatility because we can use a combination of steel and wood."

Attractive Appearance.

Masonry trim can be added to the exterior to give a conventional appearance. Panels are available in a wide selection of baked-on colors for decorative choice.

Beutler: "We've got some gorgeous metal churche buildings out there where we've substituted brick and stucco for the outside sheeting. This gives them a more conventional look, even though they have the steel structure inside."

Jurney: "The structure can accommodate a prefab steeple. Internally, you can box the beams or provide a dropped ceiling."

Klein: "We can raise roof pitches more on the line of what churches traditionally require. We can provide colored roofs, and add things to give the structure a more aesthetic look."

McNeely: "We basically provide framing systems to hold up roofs, and the owner can decide what to put around the perimeter. It could be metal wall panels, stucco, brick, block, or any combination—whatever they want."

How Safe Are They?

Metal-frame construction is inherently safe, able to withstand severe weather conditions.

Beutler: "We're in 36 different countries and we've never lost a building to wind or snow."

McNeely: "Wind and snow loads are no problem at all."

How Do We Get Started?

Contact a metal building manufacturer through ads in this magazine—quite often they can recommend a local design-build contractor in your region. You can look in the Yellow Pages under "Buildings—Metal" for a local builder. Check with other metal building churches in the area for recommendations. Getting a good builder is important—one church we contacted praised their metal-structure building but was unhappy with the builder's finish work.

Beutler: "Most of our customers are referrals, or they see an ad. We're always happy to talk to people if they're thinking about doing something right now or in a few years."

Jurney: "When a church contacts us, we put them in touch with a local contractor-dealer that likes to work with churches."

What's Most Important

Each panel member stated what he thought was the most important thing to remember about metal churches:

Beutler: "With the materials we have, a metal building can be modified easily and in many different ways without any major structural change, so it can really grow and change as the church's needs grow and change."

Jurney: "Anyone considering a straightforward church or a multipurpose building should not go through the process without talking to a metal building design-build contractor. However, this doesn't apply to a church planning an $8 million ornate sanctuary in a big city—we're not the answer to that."

Klein: "Consider having your church provide some of the labor—we can fill in the gaps or we can help you do the whole project yourselves. With this kind of construction you can do your own general contracting and save 20 percent to 30 percent of the project cost."

McNeely: "Pre-engineered construction is typically quicker and more economical than building conventionally."


Quentin Wagenfield (wagen@ia.net) is a freelance writer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Reprinted from Christianity Today, Inc. Your Church magazine.
January/February 2003, Vol. 49, No. 1, Page 54.
Used with author's permission

About Olympia Steel Buildings

Olympia Steel Buildings supplies durable high quality pre-engineered steel buildings for commercial, industrial, agricultural, Church and residential, GSA, Government and Military applications using only the highest grade commercial US steel available. Olympia Steel Buildings has been a leader in pre-engineered steel buildings for more than 40 years and is proud to provide excellent customer service and quality products 100% made in the USA.

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