Building Renovation and Expansion: First Looks

(Article by Building Committee member Richard Cleary, as published in the June 2016 newsletter.)

More than 70 members of the congregation attended a presentation on Saturday, May 7, for a first look at the schematic design for the renovation and expansion of our campus. Al York, principal of McKinney York Architects, and Aaron Taylor, project architect, guided us through the project and answered questions. The drawings they presented are on display in Howson Hall. Please feel free to share your thoughts with our building team: Meg Barnhouse, Richard Cleary, Chris Jimmerson, Julie Lipton, Brian Moore, and Sylvia Pope.

Our desire to provide a welcoming environment for new and old members alike takes us on a challenging path of renovation and expansion. McKinney York’s schematic design is the first phase of design. It is their statement of direction based on consideration of our wishes, the constraints and opportunities presented by existing conditions, code requirements, and our means. A significant portion of our budget will be devoted to the unglamorous but necessary work: meet modern building codes for life safety and accessibility; address life-cycle issues of aging heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment; refresh a tired kitchen; and replace the sorry bathrooms serving the sanctuary. Much of this work has to be done regardless of anything else we do. More dramatic contributions to the welcoming spirit of our church will be an expansion of the sanctuary, new entrance lobbies, an expanded gallery, a possible extension of Howson Hall, and a master plan and improvements for landscape, including the playgrounds. The religious education wing will receive new interior wall finishes and cosmetic improvements.

Construction costs in Austin are high, and McKinney York has advised us that we are hard against the budget raised by our capital campaign. Our next step is to hire a construction manager (contractor) to work closely with the architects and the build team to refine the cost estimates. Once we are comfortable with the alignment of goals and means, the architects will proceed with design development and, subsequently, construction documentation to refine our plans and prepare them for review by regulatory agencies and bidding by construction firms. The anticipated start of construction will be in late spring 2017.

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Schematic Plan


The sanctuary will be expanded to the north to provide additional seating and an expansion of the platform to accommodate the choir and musicians. The former choir loft will become seating. New lobbies on the north and south will offer more spacious and welcoming entrances, and the lobby restrooms will be rebuilt. The gallery will be renovated. Howson Hall improvements will include storage and a possible expansion to the north. The kitchen will be enlarged. The structural repairs required along the walls of the Religious Education wing will result in new interior finishes.

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Schematic View Sanctuary


This view from the rear of the expanded sanctuary shows the proposed candle wall and, behind it, sanctuary garden, which will be similar in character to what we have now. An angled window above the new choir area will add eastern light, and a smaller candle wall will be opened along the ramp (now a hidden corridor) behind the organ console. The rectangles with landscape scenes on the wall behind the pulpit are tentative locations for video screens. The slender columns are structural supports that are buried in the existing wall and must be retained. The column behind the podium appears closer that it is. Seating will be arranged to minimize conflicts with sight lines.







Reminder for the next architects’ meeting

(As published in Meg’s article in the May 2016 newsletter.)

Don’t forget our meeting with the architects on Saturday, May 7, 1:30 p.m. in the sanctuary to see the designs for the renovation. There will be 2D and movable 3D designs to look at, and the people who are at the meeting will choose between two design options for the courtyard entrance.

Meg’s update from the architects’ presentation

(As published in the March 2016 newsletter.)

Around a hundred congregants attended the architects’ presentation of their rough design draft for our building additions and renovation. My favorite part of the presentation was a chart which describing the architectural elements suggested by each of the seven UU principles. Al York, the principal architect, has a wonderful understanding of Unitarian Universalism, and the history of architecture’s intersection with Unitarian buildings. Also included in the presentation were inspiring photographs of the interiors of other Unitarian Universalist congregations’ buildings.

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Most UUs gravitate toward natural light, interaction with nature, a human rather than a grandiose scale, and a design which welcomes a sense of democracy and egalitarianism rather than a priestly authority.

Mr. York handled all questions straightforwardly and with humor, giving us the hard truths gently but without glossing over the difficulties we will face in terms of temporary disruptions and must-do improvements. They will do their best to minimize disruptions, except when to do so would endanger us or cost us extra! I was impressed with their dedication to the principles of quality and sustainability. They will spend time now talking with the groups who use the church and its facilities: the theater folks, choir folks, children, RE folks, staff, etc. We will tell them how we use what we have, and what we feel is most important in our playgrounds, kitchen, bathrooms, sanctuary and fellowship spaces.





New building pre-design presentation

(As published in the February 2016 newsletter.)

On February 14, at 1:15, the architects will make a presentation of the first draft of the building plan. The building team has been moved and gratified by the efforts these men have made to give us as much of what we wished for, as our budget will possibly stretch to pay for. The next phase will be to design the renovations. Please plan to be there!

A New Year’s building update from Meg

(As published in the January 2016 newsletter.)

What Has Been Done:

We dreamed of the spaces we wanted for ourselves, for our children, and for the people who are future members of this church. We had deep talks about whether to buy in another location or stay here at the end of Grover Avenue. Deciding to stay, we began and are continuing to work hard to raise the money through our six-year capital campaign. Even though we didn’t hit our dream goal, it was a triumph nevertheless, with pledges totaling more than five times our annual giving. That is as much as the boldest consultants will project for a capital campaign.

We put together a building team from names given by the congregation and from members who have experience with building projects, from design through permitting through construction. After interviewing a group of architectural firms, the team chose to work with McKinney/York ( This firm was budget conscious, they listened well, they spoke both in concepts and practicalities, and they knew Unitarian Universalism and its proud architectural history.

As part of their talk about practicalities, they let us know that, with a building of this vintage, we were bound to run into some hitherto unseen problems. We were dismayed but not surprised, then, when the engineers combed through our site and our building last month to make an in-depth analysis of what they had to work with and found that the roof on the religious education wing rests on walls that had never been meant to be load-bearing walls. The stress of that extra weight over many years is buckling those walls, which must be shored up. This cost will take 120,000 dollars of our budget. One possible solution would be to build a structural frame just inside our concrete block walls that will support the roof and face it with sheetrock, which will provide a new interior finish for the RE rooms. This and other elements are crucial for the safety of adults and children in the building, and for code compliance.

All in all, the practical “must-do” elements like shoring up the RE wing, replacing water pipes which are too narrow, sprinklering the sanctuary, making the bathrooms ADA compliant, changing the way the air in the sanctuary is vented, doing asbestos abatement, strengthening fire walls, and other such unglamorous but necessary work will take nearly half a million of our budget, leaving us about 2.7 million dollars to work with for the rest of the project.

What will be done:

What can we get done for that? What “scope of work” can we reasonably expect? That’s what we are trying to figure out. Meeting as many of your desires from our Town Hall Meetings last year is our task, and the good news is that we will be able to address many of the priorities within the budget you have given us. There will be good new ADA compliant bathrooms. We know that having an upgraded, workable kitchen was at the top of everyone’s list. Also high on the list was expanding the sanctuary to enable church growth. A new entryway and expanded Gallery area will ease the flow on Sunday mornings. The building team and the architect’s team are now hard at work to allocate our available resources in the very best way so as to accomplish as much of these priorities as we can, creating a more intentional welcome for the people who come through our doors.

In the last meeting with the architects, we were shown various exciting plans, most of which would have required us to stretch above the budget. We mixed and matched various elements, cut others, stoically accepted the news about the obstacles to be overcome, and asked the architects to go back to their drawing board to make a new plan, pared down to what we could afford. My expectation is that, when we meet with the congregation at the end of January (watch the announcements for the date) we will have diagrams of a plan in which you will see beauty, practicality and, above all, welcome. At that point, the architects’ team will invite questions and comments. After that, they will make a dimensional design, and will ask again for a meeting with the congregation later in the spring before proceeding with the final design and construction documents.

Any building project takes time, adjustments, negotiation, and management of expectations. You must articulate not only what you want, but why you want it. In a congregational building project, you must not only want for yourself, you must want for the people you don’t even know yet, you must want on behalf of the future. It’s a spiritually deepening and challenging exercise.

When the last congregation I served as settled minister built its new sanctuary, I warned them that we would have conflicts. The Episcopal Church in town nearly split over how far toward the altar the carpet should come and what portion around the altar should be slate floor. Another church I attended in college was having a discussion about whether to install a brass cross at the front of the sanctuary or a rough-hewn wooden one. One Sunday morning people showed up to see that some anonymous person had installed a rough wooden cross the night before, and no one even knew who it was. And no one ever had the nerve to uninstall it. Feelings about church buildings run high. It’s natural, since this is the container for our worship, our child rearing, our life event ceremonies, fellowship dinners, times of being soaked in beauty by the music, and planning our social justice outreach. It’s ok to disagree with one another here. All the church asks of us is that we disagree with curiosity and respect, as the covenant states. The guide for all of our decision-making is our mission, values and our ends. Those are on our website.

Report from the Building Team

We have received a preliminary “Pre-Design Report” from McKinney-York Architects. This includes analyses of materials, plumbing, roofing, landscape slopes, water pathways, air conditioning and heating systems, foundations, etc. They have given us some examples of playground concepts, and possibilities for where to put the money we have to work with. The building team will meet Dec. 2 to confer about this report. It is our intention to bring the congregation as a whole into the conversation after we have applied the congregation’s stated priorities (from Town Hall meetings in 2014) to the ideas from the architects. These conversations may happen as early as January. Please watch an announcement and newsletters for the Town Hall meeting schedule.

(As originally published in the December 2015 newsletter.)

September 2015 update

(As published in the September 2015 newsletter.)

Capital Campaign:
This fall, the CC team will be visiting with newer members who are not yet part of the building project and inviting them to make a pledge. They plan to coordinate their visits with the stewardship canvassers.

Building Team update:
We have an architect! We will be working with Mr. Al York, AIA, of McKinney/York Architects. (1301 E. 7th St.)

A short list of four impressive architecture firms and their teams were interviewed. We unanimously chose McKinney/York. Our next step is to determine their scope of work. One of the thing that impressed us was how aware they were of our budgetary limitations and how willing they were to let those shape the work. Another joy was how much they knew about the traditions of great architecture and Unitarian congregations, and how thrilled they were to have a chance to design a UU church. As they reach a point in the design process where congregational input will be helpful, the congregation will be invited to Town Hall Meetings to see the designs in process and give input. According to the current timeline, this should happen sometime in October. Watch the newsletter and the announcements! All building team meetings are open to all church members. Email Rev. Meg if you would like to come:

Latest Capital Campaign fundraising update

First UU Capital Campaign of 2014-2019

As of February, 11, 2015, the campaign raised:


A great big THANK YOU to the 417 family units that have made this possible!

Members who have joined recently will be asked to participate as we do the fall stewardship drive. Contact Co-Chairs Brendan Sterne and Ann Edwards:

Building and Steering Committee members

Building Committee

Brian Moore
Ethan Love
Richard Cleary
Julie Lipton
Sylvia Pope
Christy Seals
Rev. Chris Jimmerson
Rev. Meg Barnhouse

Steering Committee

Campaign Co-Chairs: Brendan Sterne and Ann Edwards
Advance Gifts Chair: Bill Edwards
Patterns Gifts Co-Chairs: Mary Jane Ford and Doris Hug
Victory Team Co-Chairs: Lisa Carrell and Peter Durkin
Spiritual Emphasis Chair: Michael West
Communications Chair: Victoria Valadez
Finance Chair: Mary Jane Ford
Events Chair: Amanda Ray
Outside Gifts: Derek and Donna Howard
At Large: Michael Kersey
Grants: Russell Smith

What do we want to build upon?

Several of you have requested that we share the results from our Town Hall Meetings on building priorities with you. Here are your results! (Data based on total vote ranking points from Town Hall Meetings of November 14-16 & December 7, 2014.)

Building Priorities graph for web

As published in the January 2015 newsletter.