The Facilities Review Committee was formed in the fall of 2015 with the goal of determining the immediate and long-term needs of the congregation for future facilities usage and, working in concert with an architect, designing a Master Plan for the entire Westminster campus. The committee members were Chuck Byrd, Bill Coppridge, Pat Gunter, Dave Pottenger, Chris Tuttle, Helen Harrison (chair), and Doug Wellemeyer, with the support of Elizabeth Takla as staff liaison. The committee reviewed previous work related to facilities and church vision, solicited feedback from the congregation, visited other facilities, wrestled with inherent conflicts in the varied requests and worked with an architect to turn our collection of ideas into a comprehensive master site plan. The resulting document is to be presented to the Session in August 2016.

On the advice of members who had been involved in previous capital projects, we contacted Robert Sotolongo of DTW Architects about his availability to work on this project. Robert was the architect for renovation of the Mission Center. His knowledge of WPC’s facilities and experience with our site and existing architecture made him and his team, Susan Straw and Amman Jordan, important partners for the Committee throughout the process.

The committee began by reviewing the Strategic Plan and the results of the congregational survey to see what this told us about future space requirements. A report written by Dave Pottenger can be found in Appendix A. In summary, we learned that the congregation did not consider it a priority to enlarge the overall capacity of the Sanctuary. We also saw a direction to work more with our immediate neighbors, a continued commitment to serve the community at large and a general desire to expand our programs.

Next the committee reached out to as many WPC groups as possible to find out what they viewed as the needs of the church facilities, both now and in the future. The committee divided up a comprehensive list of active committees and contacted the heads of each committee or activity and asked them to answer the following questions:

  • What works well for your group with our current facilities / what of your needs are met?
  • What activities have you been prohibited from doing due to facilities / what of your needs are unmet?
  • What challenges have our facilities caused your group?
  • What spaces elsewhere have you admired for the purposes of your group?
  • What would you like to see improved or changed in WPC’s facilities?

In addition, articles were placed in multiple editions of the church newsletter inviting congregants to provide feedback directly to members of the committee. Feedback from each group was compiled and a comprehensive list of needs was produced.

Although our review spanned the entire campus, there were several key themes that stood out in the feedback. Clearly, the state of the Fellowship Hall stands out. It is both too small for some events and too large for others. The lighting, acoustic and sound systems are inadequate. There is a clear desire not just for additional meeting space, but for space that is flexible and can be reconfigured for different uses. We need a space suitable for guest speakers with an audience of 50 people. We need a space that can be used for formal occasions, both large and small, such as Chapel Services, and Wedding and Funeral receptions. And, as we already know, the kitchen is much too small to service larger dinners. Several groups asked that we improve the accessibility of our facilities for members with mobility issues. There is also a desire that additional space be available that is accessible directly from the outside, without having to go through a main building. We also heard a clear message that the Memorial Garden is important and should stay in its present location. A complete list can found in Appendix B: WPC Facilities Review Feedback.

While compiling feedback, committee members visited other facilities to see different approaches that had been taken by other churches and organizations. We focused on spaces for fellowship and recreation, as well as kitchens. We visited: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Durham; Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Chapel Hill (David Bingham’s former church); Carol Woods Auditorium/Multipurpose space (designed by DTW) in Chapel Hill; Aldersgate UMC in Durham; and Triangle Presbyterian Church in Durham. Other sites were visited by individuals. Pictures of sites can be found on the Facilities Review Google Drive, along with meeting minutes and other background materials.

One Space VS Two
OR Why is there a gym on the plan when the feedback doesn’t specifically request one?

In putting together any plan of this scope there will inevitably be opposing requirements. Our current Fellowship Hall is used, among other things, as a rugged play space for children of all ages. While it is adequate as a preschool children’s gym, it is really too small for serious indoor games for larger children and there are still windows to break—it is not really rugged enough for what most who use the Fellowship Hall as a gym would like to be doing. At the same time we have a clear mandate for a large space which is more formal than our current facility. This became our ‘one space vs two’ debate—is it possible to have a single multi-purpose space, formal enough to be used for funeral and wedding receptions, for smaller chapel services, but still rugged enough for children throwing balls around? We kept this question in mind while visiting other sites. We saw several formal fellowship spaces that would meet the needs of those wanting more elegant spaces, but you would not want children to throw balls in these rooms. We also visited churches which had built multi-purpose/gym spaces and used these spaces for contemporary worship spaces, for church meals, for plays, for receptions, and for recreation. They accept having basketball hoops raised up overhead during dinners and receptions and accept having basketball markings on the floor. They report that they are pleased with the way these spaces have expanded their ability to offer recreational programs both to their congregations and to the community.

The trouble with a space that tries to serve many needs for many purposes is that it ends up not being very good at any of them. Our current Fellowship Hall is a prime example of this. It is not elegant enough for more formal occasions. Funeral receptions are held in the Parlor, even though only a fraction of those in attendance can be inside at a time. The current Fellowship Hall is only acceptable as a gym space for groups. When Boy Scouts play games involving balls in the Fellowship Hall, they lean tables vertically in front of the windows to protect them from breaking. After considerable deliberation and consultation with our architects, we decided that to have one space serve needs as diverse as rugged play space to formal reception space was unrealistic. It also would, in all likelihood, be inadequate for most of WPC’s usage requirements. Thus the final plan includes two large spaces: The first in the current fellowship hall footprint and which could best be described as traditional or formal. This could be subdivided into smaller spaces, with new spaces added along the sides. These new spaces can be closed off to be their own rooms or be part of the larger space. The second foresees another facility, set further back on the property, which can be used as large rugged recreational space, with a stage suitable for theatrical productions, worship services, or large congregational gatherings.

Families and children are the future of the church. The churches that are growing are those which have embraced multiple worship experiences, offer programs beyond traditional Sunday school, and provide opportunities to come together as a community for both recreation and worship. We have tried to keep these things in mind while going through this process. What follows is a master plan that presents a long-term vision for all of Westminster’s property, grounded in the vision of the Strategic Plan.

Review all documents produced by the Facilities Review Task Force during the course of their work.