What happens to your dreams for designing a church space when fundraising doesn’t come through? You might expect them to be compromised. You might predict lengthy delays or even a project cancellation. It is a daunting and unfortunately all-too-common scenario with many technical and media budgets in churches these days, but with the right conversations, planning, and expertise, a solution can be found. With a steady climb in attendance and a major manufacturing plant going in down the road, Silverdale Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN anticipated upcoming rapid growth. Planning for a new 2,000-seat auditorium, the dream came alive, and a design team was assembled, but when pledges did not come through as expected, Mark Randolph, media/associate worship pastor for Silverdale, realized the necessary funding was just not there.

Silverdale had originally contacted our team at Mankin Media Systems (MMS), among others, for design expertise, based on our two teams’ shared excitement and presence. The church approached us at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in 2010, looking for an innovative partner to design an audio/visual experience in a new performance space. Coming from an older style building, the church leaders wanted to build a facility for future generations that included immersive video elements. Some of us had already attended Silverdale services and shared great conversations with Randolph. So, when fundraising goals were not met, Silverdale had to disband the full design team and chose to ask us to be the sole participant. Together, Randolph and the MMS team were optimistic and determined to still bring the dream to life, working on the project as a renovation of the current space, as opposed to a new build.

“Budget really ends up driving everything,” says Randolph. “We had to back up and figure out how to retrofit the design for our dream into a room that we could renovate.” Silverdale looked at the available funding and assets, and determined to use a previously existing room to reach the same goals. Randolph had some concerns, though. He needed to ensure that the renovation would provide the same infrastructure he had planned for the new building, believing, he says, that a proper infrastructure “is either going to limit you or keep you moving in the future” and, therefore, was vitally important.

We immediately planned to adapt the new facility design to keep the best elements for the renovation, but that left us with multiple challenges with room height, overall rigging load, and power draw. Silverdale’s auditorium needed optimized sightlines to be able to increase seating capacity. MMS studied and built models of the room to efficiently design the stage and the screens to provide a great view to any of the new seating areas. The current building also had very little previous production infrastructure, so MMS worked with structural engineers to design a catwalk to add lighting capabilities, reduce time and investment for putting up new lights, and drastically lower the ceiling to give the room a more intimate feel. Additionally, we worked with contractors to install new conduit and add-in wall plates, tie lines, and floor boxes to route signals around the space of the building. The proper infrastructure was unfolding nicely.

However, the main challenge of the space was a limit on the facility’s electrical supply. The A/V design accounted for 600A of power across audio, video, and lighting, while leaving room for further expansion. When the quote for increasing power capacity to the current room came in at a whopping $200,000, we realized power consumption for the room would definitely be the big budget obstacle to tackle. Energy efficiency quickly became a priority, and we worked with the electrical contractor to stay within the 200A allowance the building currently had, avoiding paying for a new service to be run to the building. With new lighting comprising a large portion of Silverdale’s vision, we switched the lighting, both house and performance, to LED fixtures. The lighting backbone of Robert Juliat Aledin units and various Martin Professional LED fixtures provided a means to reach immense savings, as we required a lower overall budget. The lighting system is controlled via a Martin Professional M1 console.

Along with lighting, we worked to develop long-term plans for Silverdale’s audio and video systems that delivered immediate functionality and a future growth path. Silverdale wanted to be able to program services with low overall light levels and still capture a great video image, so the church selected three 2/3" Hitachi Z-HD5000 HD cameras, which let in quite a lot of light, as well as Barco FLM HD14 14,000-lumen 3-chip DLP projectors, all to project onto Da-Lite screens on either side of the stage. These choices created the proper amount of light and color for effective video recording and display in the naturally dark room. The video system has at its core the Ross Video Carbonite 2M switcher that allows for flexible routing and switching to all of the church’s destinations.

Another challenge was designing the system to accommodate the future expansion of major pieces. One design element that was eliminated due to budget constraints late in the project was a center screen. The original design called for a custom three-projector blended screen floating above the performers on stage, but due to budget cuts, we decided to do a conventional left and right screen look while accounting for adding a third projector and screen by specifying all screens to be border-less. In the future, the church can complete the look by adding a center screen and have an almost seamless projection image.

As the venue regularly features a full band and choir, we worked with Silverdale to implement a Nexo Geo S12 speaker system. We knew that the Nexo system would meet both the power requirements and sound quality Silverdale desired while not busting the church’s budget. We have worked with Nexo over the years and are able to offer the systems to clients at an economical price point because of how efficient each speaker and amplifier has become. Other than just meeting the budget, the Nexo Geo S12 system is perfect for the room in clarity and presence. Running the sound system is an Avid Venue Profile console with Avid Pro Tools HD, chosen for its seamless integration with Pro Tools and the ability to teach other sound engineers with the virtual sound check features. That it is very easy to use and sounds great was a bonus. Randolph notes that the system “just blew me away the more I listened to it. It was the biggest improvement over what we had before.” The comments continue to pour in from young and old alike in the congregation about how much they like the new sound system. Many older attendees have remarked that it was the first time they could hear the pastor clearly.

After finding as much efficiency as possible in speakers, amplifiers, and projectors, we worked with the electrical contractor to create max power draw and average power draw scenarios for the room. Aiming for the 200A threshold, in the end we were at 140A total, allowing room for future expansion. The initial cost of the fixtures increased, but it was much less than the alternative $200,000 increase to add more electrical services to the building. In addition, with multiple uses for each fixture, we were able to cut down on the total weight load on the structure. “LED lighting is now working out extremely well for us,” Randolph explains. “We will be getting many years of usage from each fixture, and, in the immediate construction, switching to LED allowed us to avoid having to redo the power feed coming into the facility. It’s been a great tradeoff for us.” Randolph describes the quality of the lights as a “broad spectrum of splashing color to match just about any situation—working out really well for us.”

In the end, the technical budget was reduced by 35% when we switched to a renovation, and we worked to streamline and find efficiencies in the systems Silverdale sought and create a long-range plan to develop the infrastructure they need to add pieces later. Our team at Mankin Media was still able to identify Silverdale’s overall dream and reduce the costs along the way. Randolph is now proud to have a new space that gives his team great flexibility in telling the story. “Everyone’s saying, ‘I’ve never heard or seen the pastor so clearly before!’ and from the user position, we haven’t run into a single thing yet that kept us from doing what we tried to do.” Randolph now recognizes that a technical budget for a new or renovated space, “does not affect the dream, just the reality of how you can accomplish it.”

Stephen Roberts is managing director of MMS and leads the teams to produce excellent technical systems and compelling performance spaces for a diverse client base, including churches, broadcast facilities, and universities. With MMS, Roberts continues to focus on building great teams that develop innovative solutions and remarkable spaces.