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Maggie Durran: Cost and quality

06 August 2008

Your column about the cost of adapting a church for community use discouraged our members, as the potential bill for our church adapta­tion is high, but we believe that the quality of the building justi­fies the expense. We do not want a cheap solution in a superb building.

NEITHER DO I. The challenge comes when you have to pay for a relatively expensive change.

Most potential external funders do not have limitless resources; so they will ask whether church A, church B, or even community centre C is the best investment for their funds.

The efficiency in the use of money can be calculated by determining how many square metres of usable space are created, and how many people will be using the new space. Listed buildings nearly always have complications; so they will be more expensive than unlisted places.

In the selection of projects that will receive grants, therefore, the outside funder is likely to choose not the cheapest, but the most efficient.

When asking an architect about the adaptation, bear in mind several issues. First, the architect should know the kind of sum you may be able to raise, and should come up with ideas at the right cost-level.

Second, ask the architect to pro­duce two or three design ideas that represent the cheapest, the most expensive, and one in between. I like to use car imagery: the 2CV, the Ford Sierra, and the Rolls-Royce versions. This approach will enable you to see how essential structural and func­tional elements of the new use may be approached with regard to cost: it will enable you to make in­formed choices, and it will facilitate a pro­ductive discussion with the design team, so that you get a good design with a manageable budget. For fund-raising, you need only to have plans developed to RIBA stage B; so this comparison is not an expensive or complex piece of work.

Look at the big picture: knowing what money may be available for your church will enable you to select the essentials for new use (such as drains and heating) that are entirely functional. Then wait until later, when the building is being used, before you raise the question of the more desirable and aesthetically pleas­ing aspects, such as wood-panel­ling. In other words, plan to phase your works.

Later phases may be funded more easily, as your building will be busy and investment-justified; it is always harder to fund-raise for an empty or unused building.

One key item many churches face is the installation of new heating. Every architect at the moment seems to recommend underfloor heating, but although this may represent the Rolls-Royce in the funding plan, it is far too expensive to most outside funders. But what is the alternative? It may, after all, do an acceptable and serviceable heating job.

So there are checks and balances between what we would like, and what we can afford. Being affordable, however, need not be at the expense of our fine heritage buildings: it is just that the acceptable building solution, which balances heritage and money, may take more time to achieve.

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