Facilities Maintenance


Most religious structures built over the last two centuries were designed to accommodate the traditional threefold aspects of congregational life: worship God, educate the members, and build community among the faithful.  Certainly in some instances, provisions were made to support social outreach, but these basic programs were the functional parameters by which faith communities understood their reason for being and gave shape to the buildings they created.

However in the present day, as many congregations face the harsh realities of declining membership, shrinking budgets and deteriorating buildings, it is time to look beyond the traditional parameters that defined congregational life and explore alternatives.  Religious leaders need to take greater initiative in creating innovative ways in which to use its real property for unconventional ministries before congregations are forced to close.  An example of such creative leadership exists in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (D.C.).

The Church of the Holy Communion is an Episcopal congregation that has served the historic Congress Heights neighborhood in Southeast Washington, DC since 1895.  For the first half of the twentieth century, Congress Heights was an integrated, working-class neighborhood, populated to a large extent by whites.  As demographics and economic opportunities shifted following World War II, the profile of the neighborhood gradually changed to become primarily African-American and low income.  Holy Communion, which had a congregation of as many as 800 members during the 1960s, experienced decline as members moved out of the neighborhood, grew older and died.  Over the same period, the effort made by the congregation to reach out to those who now live in the neighborhood and invite them to church did not produce sufficient new members to offset the decline.  As a result, Holy Communion reached a point where it averaged fifteen to twenty people at Sunday worship and only could afford a part-time clergy person.  The existing Gothic-Revival church and educational wing were constructed in 1952 and 1957 respectively, when the size of the congregation was at its height.  Not surprisingly, as the congregation shrank, the buildings suffered from deferred maintenance.  In other words, by 2005, Holy Communion teetered on the verge of closure.

At this same time, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington was taking decisive action to address another issue—the critical academic and social needs of young boys from low-income families in the District of Columbia.  The Diocese committed itself to establishing a boys’ school, honoring the memory of Bishop John T. Walker, the first African American Bishop of the Diocese, and locating the school in the economically-challenged Southeast quadrant of the city, where the need is great.  Yet with limited financial resources in hand, the prospect of purchasing land and building a new or buying an existing structure and renovating it seemed beyond the reach of the Diocese.

Recognizing the instance of two struggling ministries—one diminishing and the other fledgling, Diocesan leadership devised a creative solution: establish a partnership between Holy Communion and the Bishop Walker School, whereby the congregation provides the real property on which both ministries can function, while the School provides the resources to renovate the church and educational wing to accommodate both programs.  The congregation will enjoy the benefit of a newly-restored facility on the weekends, while the School will bring new purpose and vitality to the property during the weekdays.  Each ministry will enjoy the benefit from partnering with the other.

Both entities were agreeable to the partnership.  So working with Devrouax & Purnell Architects of Washington, Holy Communion, the Bishop Walker School and the Diocese together created a design to rehabilitate the existing buildings to accommodate the first phase of the School’s growth—from Junior Kindergarten to fourth grade, to upgrade the facilities to meet current building codes and provide accessibility for the disabled, as well as to preserve the congregation’s worship space all on a frugal budget of $2.3M.  In the fall of 2010, the congregation resumed worship in its historic church, as the School moved into its new spaces of the shared facility.

Is the partnership proving to be a success?  By and large, it is.  Still, challenges often occur in the early stages of any relationship.  The most notable glitch is that Holy Communion’s congregation is yet to enjoy an appreciable increase in members and giving.  The expectation was that the partnership, with its revitalization, inherently would attract new members to the congregation.  Yet, reality is proving that Holy Communion still must undertake the hard work of reaching out to people in the broader community and providing them a spiritual home.

Nevertheless, this creative partnership deserves attention, applause and encouragement.  Not only was a faith community saved from closing, but a vital new ministry established.  The visual presence and tangible efforts of a religious institution were enhanced and extended in a neighborhood needing positive influence and assistance.  Revitalizing the buildings and grounds brought money and jobs into the local economy, as the larger city benefits from preserving the historic streetscape.  In short, this partnership helped a great many people who needed it.

And what is more, this model of partnership can be replicated.  Examples where congregations partner with assisted living facilities for the elderly and disabled or with secular community centers to meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhood exist and are successful.  At the heart of each success are creative religious leaders who recognize the needs facing their faith communities, as well as their secular communities.  By matching needs with programs, real property improvement with philanthropy, and utilizing the skills and experience of design professionals, along with a dash of entrepreneurial spirit, these leaders are crucial in developing successful, adaptive-reuse solutions that address the challenges of declining congregations before their demise.

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In 1907, the first stone was laid in the construction of Washington National Cathedral and in 1990; the last stone was set in place.  As I began work at the Cathedral in 2005, I soon learned that over the course of its nearly one-hundred years of existence, a comprehensive survey of the building fabric had never been made.  Understandably, for the first eighty-three years, most of the attention was devoted to completing construction of the Cathedral, not preserving its fabric.  Yet with construction now complete, many in Cathedral governance felt it was time to turn its attention away from the building and devote its resources in other directions.  As a result, the prevailing attitude toward preservation was one of reaction, rather than pro-action.  In other words, wait for something to break and then fix it.

I immediately set to work reversing this attitude by raising the awareness of Governance to its responsibility of being good stewards of the historic landmark it had inherited, by teaching that a policy of deferred maintenance is more costly than preventative maintenance, and encouraging them to be more fiscally responsible by creating a prioritized list of preservation capital projects, with associated costs, for the next five, ten and fifteen years.  With this specific information in hand, a more responsible strategic budget could be established and the necessary funds set in place for any forthcoming major projects.  Finally after pressing the issue for two years, Governance was convinced to release the necessary funds allowing me to proceed with this important study.

Fortunately, the Cathedral maintained good records of its construction history, through drawings, specifications, correspondence, photographs and annual maintenance logs.  However, the information is not centralized nor easily accessible, which means it is used rarely.  Working with a historic architectural consultant, we sifted through all of the information and, after interviewing a number of people who participated in the construction and/or ongoing maintenance of the building, assembled an accurate and comprehensive history of construction in both written and graphic form.

The team then inspected the entire Cathedral, assessing the condition of all materials, assemblies and systems, noting any deterioration, failures and potential failures.  A number of specialists, including stone, stained-glass, metal and wood conservators, and roof and moisture protection specialists participated and provided recommendations.  Detailed technical analysis was made of selected materials and practices including mortar, stone repair, sealant use, waterproofing membranes, and lead roofing.  After a year, a comprehensive conditions report was assembled indicating every aspect of the building fabric: material descriptions, maintenance history, present condition, level of attention required and recommendations going forward.

Once the data was assembled, I then prioritized the items based on level of urgency and worked with the consultants to attach an estimated budget to each item.  I also evaluated the project list based on projected annual budgets for the next five years and current maintenance staff size and skill sets.  In the end, I assembled the information into distinct packets for specific audiences in both print and digital forms.  Governance received a summary of the conditions report, the prioritized project list and associated budget projections, all in a language that was comprehendible and useful for strategic planning and budgeting.

For those concerned with more technical aspects of the survey and its applications, they received the detailed conditions report, the prioritized project list and associated budget projections, which provided specific background and application information in an accessible form.

For the first time in Cathedral history, both Governance and Maintenance had the technical and budgetary information it needed to adopt a policy of pro-active preservation of the Cathedral.

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The Department of Commerce BuildingFrom 1992 to 1994, while serving as the Principal Historical Architect for Frazier Associates, we served as a historic architectural consultant for the General Services Administration (GSA) on selected historic federal building projects in the National Capital Region of Washington, DC.  The buildings included the International Trade Commission Building, former Navy Medical School Buildings, Department of Commerce Building, Department of Education Building, Federal Courthouse, Tax Court, Veteran’s Administration Building, and the Winder Building.  My responsibilities involved conducting in-depth historical research to determine the construction history of each building; submitting recommendations to GSA’s Historic Preservation Officer describing possible courses of action with historic building problems; providing analysis of original materials such as paint and mortar; preparing construction drawings and specifications for specialized restoration and conservation work; and reviewing the specialized construction in the field.

In this role, I was a member of large project teams of professionals consisting of architects, engineers, interior designers, fire protection specialists, and representatives from the respective federal departments and agencies housed in each building.  With each project, a new team was assembled, who often had not worked together previously.  For these projects to be successful, I approached them with a spirit of coordination and cooperation, and cultivated the same attitude within the project team.

One project, involving the Department of Commerce building, called for the installation of new fire barrier walls at strategic locations along the primary corridors of the one-time largest, horizontally-continuous building in the world.  The fire marshal for the project initially insisted the fire barrier walls had to be of solid construction with solid doors kept in a closed position.  While the project team agreed that improving fire safety for the building occupants was necessary, such a design solution would dramatically compromise the integrity of the building’s historic interiors and seriously impede a successful conclusion to the project.

However after extensive research, I located a manufacturer of fire-rated, glass door assemblies that provided the necessary degree of fire separation required for this project, and also offered a minimalistic design that was compatible with the historic interiors.  In addition, due to the proposed fire barrier’s innovative design, the fire marshal was agreeable to the notion that the new doors could be held in an open position by electro-magnetic locks, until such a time when an activated fire alarm would release the locks and the doors would close automatically.


A second project involved the exterior rehabilitation of the Veteran’s Administration Building.  Since the building’s construction in the early twentieth-century, the original glass-roof canopies over the primary entrances were altered dramatically from their original design and, in some instances, replaced entirely, due in large part to their failure to shed water properly.  A critical component of this project was the expectation that new canopies would be created to replicate the original design, but eliminate the earlier flaws.  In addition, each exterior entrance must be made accessible to the disabled, a design challenge made difficult by the extreme change in elevation from sidewalk level to the entrance floor level and the minimal amount of frontage area in which to accommodate a ramp.


In close collaboration with the project architect, the structural engineer, and the landscape architect, I developed new glass entrance canopies that are very similar in appearance to the original designs, yet allow water to drain from the exposed surfaces properly.  In addition, new ramps were designed and constructed that provide accessibility to the disabled and are sympathetic in appearance to the historic building.


These two examples illustrate the ongoing need to incorporate contemporary building requirements into the fabric of historic buildings—a task that too often results in a clash of sensibilities and an ugly design solution that compromises the value of the historic building.  However, with clear communication, creative design and a shared desire to produce an excellent product, I was able to assist the project teams in building consensus and achieving successful results.

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