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Church construction doing well in sagging economy

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While San Diego County residential building activity has reached historic lows, several nonresidential building sectors, such as the religious facilities construction, continue to experience stable activity along with an increased demand from clients to include more "green" design aspects into new structures.

"We see very little change in the work we're doing for denominations," said Bennett Lord, principal architect of San Diego-based Lord Architecture Inc., a firm that is currently involved in 20 religious construction projects in Southern California. "Church work tends to be somewhat recession resistant."

"In the early '90s, we managed to stay busy because of religion," said John Pyjar, one of the principals of San Diego-based Dominy + Associates Architects, a firm that recently completed the design of a $5.3 million Christ Lutheran Church Education Center in La Mesa.

Jeff Miller, who is serving as project superintendent for Bycor General Contractors on a 35,000-square-foot Cornerstone Church of San Diego in National City, agreed with Lord, as the contractor is currently building three churches in the county.

Lord said if a congregation has a genuine need for a new church or facility, and sufficient funding from past donations and fundraisers exist, projects will move forward regardless of the economy.

"You're building a structure that'll be there for generations. It's not a speculative event," Lord said.

Because these projects will exist for generations to come, congregations are now pushing for sustainable buildings that have minimal future operating costs and are environmentally sensitive.

One example of a newly built "green" church facility is the $13.7 million, seven-building St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, which was designed by Cardiff-based architects Hyndman and Hyndman.

"It's one of the first notable (green church) projects," said Shelly Hyndman, principal of the firm.

Green aspects of the project included: the planting of 530 trees around the church; a very low floor area ratio of buildings to land; retaining wildlife corridors; adopting LEED credits in the use of local and regional manufactured materials; using waterless urinals in the men's restrooms; and selecting mahogany pews obtained from a regenerating tree farm.

Hyndman added that the church and other facilities on the project site were designed to be well-ventilated and use as much natural daylight as possible.

Both of these design elements significantly cut down the church's operating costs without increasing the congregation's project expenses.

However other green design aspects, such as the installation of solar panels, can add a significant amount of money to the congregation's project costs.

"Churches hesitate when talking about going that far (installing panels and achieving various LEED rating certifications) because it does increase costs," Hyndman said, adding that, in the end, it comes down to available money and the congregation's desires.

Lord predicted that, as solar technology and other green building technologies become more available, costs will decrease, and more congregations will install solar panels and attempt to achieve LEED certification.

Through the first two months of this year, permits have been pulled for nearly $13 million worth of "other" construction in the county, which includes church, school and hospital construction, according to the Construction Industry Research Board.

Spanning the previous two years, permits were pulled for more than $443 million worth of other construction.

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