Friday, May 20, 2011

A Proposal for a Capital Campaign

The last time the details of a capital campaign were unveiled at St. Paul’s, parishioners had no advance warning as to what projects were to be proposed. I offered my own analysis of the plan after it was announced, but I would have preferred being better prepared to discuss Fulfilling the Vision at the one and only opportunity the parish was given to do so. (My comments on last year’s proposal can be read beginning with the post “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 1.”)

Presumably, the plan to be presented on Sunday is going to look much like the last plan, less the features to which parishioners most objected, especially the “ministry enhancements” that were priced at $425,000.

Rather than wait until Sunday to comment on the latest plan, I thought it would be an interesting and helpful exercise for me to propose my own plan, which can then be compared to what will actually be presented on Sunday. I don’t have the wherewithal to put costs on each item I think should be funded by a capital campaign, but many of my suggestions will be in the parish’s plan anyway. You’ll have to guess what everything else will cost.

Fulfilling the Vision was actually pretty vague on many points. For example, $100,000 was to be spent on
Miscellaneous painting, repairs throughout: roof, nursery school water damage, improve lighting, improve interior and exterior signage
Because I have not inspected the entire building, I will have to be just as indefinite about some items, but I will try to be as specific as possible.

Guidelines for Inclusion

It is clear that parishioners will only support a fund drive that is restricted to repairs and improvements of our physical plant. Valid projects should make the church more beautiful, more inviting, more functional, more secure, or more efficient. Expensive projects that have only a small payoff or that have undesirable side effects should not be undertaken. (Often, for example, architectural modifications intended to facilitate handicapped access turn into aesthetic disasters, particularly when construction details are chosen primarily on the basis of cost.)

Fulfilling the Vision proposed to pay off the church’s existing debt, an idea that was popular with parishioners but was something of a surprise to the representatives of the Episcopal Church Foundation who did the feasibility study of the aborted campaign. Since then, our debt has been restructured, the parish having borrowed from the Growth Fund at an attractive interest rate. Any capital campaign is likely to require some short-term financing, and paying off our existing debt might require our taking on at least short-term debt at a less attractive rate. Forget paying off the debt for now.

Clearly, much of the aforementioned $100,000 was intended for what can only be described as routine—and, in many cases, deferred—maintenance. St. Paul’s must get into the habit of maintaining its buildings and grounds on a current basis, financed through the normal operating fund. Putting money into a “Facilities Maintenance Fund,” as was proposed last time to the tune of $200,000, is a bad idea in the abstract and looks suspiciously like a scheme to shelter routine expenses from diocesan assessment. I hope that the Facilities Maintenance Fund idea has been dropped, though I expect to see it proposed again on Sunday.

Likewise, neither outreach nor our endowment should have any claim on money raised for capital expenses. Our buildings and grounds are indeed in need of repair and upgrading, and we should focus exclusively on those needs.

A Capital Fund Drive Proposal

Below, I offer my list of worthy projects for St. Paul’s to embrace. I will try to be clear, but I will not attempt to write an essay on each one. For convenience, I will group projects that are somehow related. I will not try to rank the projects in order of desirability. It isn’t important that all parishioners agree on the relative importance of all the tasks to be done; it is only important that we have a general sense that the projects we essay are worthy ones.

The order in which I list projects (or even categories of projects) is arbitrary. Moreover, I make no claim that I have thought of everything. I may have missed some significant undertakings or suggested others that might be done differently. My goal is simply to offer a checklist for evaluating what will be offered to parishioners on May 22. It is my hope, though not my expectation, that parishioners will be given a chance to modify what is being proposed.

Accessibility. Put electric door openers on the door to the parking lot near the elevator and on the handicapped rest room. The door on the rest room is very hard to open, particularly if you are in a wheelchair.

Provide an awning at the door to the parking lot near the elevator. This would be very helpful in inclement weather. This need not be a permanent part of the building. (I don’t know the best way to provide shelter here.)

Add a ramp or lift to the chancel near the sacristy. The chancel is one of the areas of the building currently inaccessible to the handicapped. This would allow handicapped/wheelchair access to the chancel. I suspect that the existing stairs could be replaced with a ramp. (The balcony is also not handicapped accessible, but there is little we can do about that.)

Replace the stairs to the choir room with a ramp. This is tricky but doable. (The choir room is another area within the building not handicapped accessible.)

Provide a ramp from the door near the financial secretary’s office to St. Margaret’s garden. The steps can be replaced with the ramp. There is currently no handicapped access to the garden.

There is at least one place in the church where a wheelchair can be conveniently placed during a service or other event. We should create a few more by shortening pews.

Security. Replace any external doors that need to be replaced. (This may be most of them.)

Re-key all the locks in the building, so that there are not so many keys required and there is a master key (and, perhaps, sub-masters). It might be helpful to have an external door with programmable keys, so that temporary keys (or key codes) could be distributed for specific events. (If I have a need to enter the building to prepare for an event, I could be granted access for that day only, for example.)

It is not clear that security cameras are needed at St. Paul’s, but their use should be considered.

Maintenance. Repair water damage and repaint as necessary. Make whatever permanent changes are needed to prevent future damage. (I understand that there is water damage in the chapel and perhaps in the nursery school.) The old sacristy next to the storage area at the end of the undercroft is very damp, which threatens the material stored there. This should also be fixed.

Repair and stabilize our stained glass. There are broken panes, and it may be time to reset all of the glass. St. Paul’s has lovely stained glass, and we should do all we can to conserve it.

There are, no doubt, other painting and wall repair to be done, as well as other minor maintenance projects.

If the roof needs repair, by all means repair it.

Comfort. Air condition the church. I realize that this is controversial, but, in 21st-century America, people expect their churches to be comfortable.

Air condition the kitchen. How could we not have done this before?

Air condition the choir room. There is currently a room air conditioner in the choir room. It is nearly useless and rather noisy.

Replace the deteriorating choir chairs in the chancel. Besides being in poor repair, the chairs have a distressing tendency to fall over backwards. When the chancel was renovated and the new organ installed, there was never a plan for how the choir was to be accommodated. We are using chairs predating the renovation.

Develop and execute a plan for seating in the balcony. Even less planning was done for the balcony when the organ was installed. It’s obvious, and it’s embarrassing.

Exterior and Grounds. The stonework of St. Margaret’s garden is in a poor state of repair. We should fix it.

We should hire a landscape architect to develop a master plan for the grounds and begin implementing that plan.

The sidewalk immediately in front of the main doors is in bad repair. I would like to see the area expanded to become a gathering area for events such as the Palm Sunday service. I wrote about this and about the plan to provide handicapped access to the front door in my post “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 4.” For a number of reasons, I am now opposed to the idea of eliminating the front steps and sloping the paving in front of the church from the sidewalk to the level of the narthex floor. There are many reasons for my opposition. The main reason is aesthetic, but the idea of dropping off the handicapped on Washington Road has its own set of problems. After much consideration, I find little reason to provide a handicapped entrance to the narthex. After all, most people, whether handicapped or not, enter the building from the parking lot. There is reason to provide a handicapped exit from the narthex, however, as, in case of fire, someone in a wheelchair, say, will not have access to the elevator. A ramp could be built from the narthex door facing Mayfair Drive, but I don’t have a favorite plan for this. We need an architect’s help here.

Re-engineer our outdoor sign, which is not a good advertisement for the church. (See my post “Welcome, If You’re Going South.”) We long ago gave up changing our sign with any regularity. The interior of the sign is deteriorated, the lock on one side is broken, and only one side of the sign is lit. On the other hand, the frame of the sign is quite handsome. I would like to see the sign rehabilitated and its innards replaced with an electronic sign, as is becoming common for churches to use. Such a sign can be updated from inside the building. Mt. Lebanon may give us grief about such a sign, but the fight is worth fighting, as it is the only kind of sign that really can be read from a passing car. Our outdoor banners are tacky, cannot be easily updated, and seem to come loose from their moorings with alarming frequency.

Redesign or replace the brass sign on the front of the church. This brass plate has service times on it from many years ago and a place for the rector’s name. The sign should have the church’s name and the dates when it was founded and when it moved to its present location, and nothing else. That information will never change.

Clean the external building surface by whatever means.

Functional Improvements. Wire the entire building for Internet service and provide WiFi throughout the building.

Add electrical outlets outside the front and rear of the building. These would be useful in a variety of circumstances.

Replace all two-wire outlets with three-wire outlets. Two-wire outlets remain in the church (and perhaps elsewhere). This is inconvenient (and potentially hazardous) when one needs to power a device with a three-wire plug.

Install a completely new sound system. Suggesting this makes me very nervous, as I am afraid we will choose a sound system oriented toward use of a church band rather than an organ and choir and the spoken word. Parishioners should ask hard questions about what is to be installed and how obtrusive that might be, either sonically or visually.

Install wireless microphones in the undercroft.

Improve ability to aim fixtures in the church and replace lamps. Some of the spotlights in the church that are high off the floor are unusable now because the fixtures are mis-aimed. They are difficult to adjust, and it is difficult to replace the lamps when they burn out. Some fixtures need to be replace, and it may be useful to replace them with fixtures with motors that rotate them. It may even be practical to add cat walks to make it easier to replace lamps and adjust fixtures.

Replace the piano in the undercroft.

Efficiency Improvements. The church uses many lamps that are power-hungry or expensive. New technologies are becoming available that will allow us to light the building at much lower cost.

Aesthetic Improvements. The lanterns in the chancel should be replaced with lanterns that match the majority of chandeliers in the church. These will have to be custom made, but the “witch’s hat” lanterns are both ugly and dangerous, as they encourage heat buildup that melts the wiring insulation.

Provide better lighting in the sanctuary area. The lighting in this area was never revisited after the cantilevered organ chests were added. The exposed organ pipes are now a major architectural feature of the church, yet they are poorly lit, and the areas under them are lit even worse.

Additional lighting should also be provided for the antiphonal organ. Again, a significant architectural feature is being insufficiently highlighted.

Add additional down light toward the rear of the nave. In the last building campaign, down lights toward the back of the nave were deleted from the project due to a misunderstanding between the church and the contractor. The rear of the church remains darker than the front.

Construct some kind of partition at the front of the (liturgically) south transept to hide sound equipment and instruments when not in use. I don’t know if St. Paul’s will continue to have a band, but, as long as it does, we seem to have created an unsightly mess in the transept. Since we cannot reasonably put all the instruments somewhere else during services in which they are not being used, let’s at least hide them.

Lighten the stain of the remaining dark wood in the church. This includes the doors to the narthex, some baseboard, and the front balcony wall, which may actually have to be replaced.

Final Thoughts

This is, I think, a substantial list.

Notice that I have not advocated spending $100,000 to reconfigure the undercroft. I have not heard a credible argument that doing so, which will reduce the amount of usable space in the undercroft, is either wise or cost-effective.

If we do go forward with a capital campaign, I hope that parishioners will have some say both in what projects are a part of the campaign and just how those projects are executed. If parishioners have no say in just what the campaign is going to fund, I suggest that they do not fund the campaign at all.

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