As plans are developed, you need to check that you are happy with the technical details of the proposal. Without wishing to denigrate all architects, I have seen a tendency to ignore the maintenance aspects of equipment; so do not install electronic equipment under an old (damp) suspended floor — it will fail, expensively. If systems such as fire alarms use batteries, have you considered how they will be replaced (and how often)? What are the costs of annual inspections of items (sensors, for example) mounted in the ceiling? What are the running costs? How will light bulbs be replaced? (LEDs use considerably less energy than halogens.)
THIS correspondent speaks with the voice of experience. This reinforces the necessity of looking carefully at plans for building work — for all these ongoing issues, and more. Some architects are on the ball in their specification of fixtures and fittings, but the issues raised in this letter have all happened.
Changing burned-out light bulbs safely and readily is a common issue. Many fittings are too high and inaccessible, and, with an older church population, stepladders are often inadequate. New works should have fittings low down (with uplighters if necessary); be fitted with LED bulbs, which are by nature long-life; and all bulbs and fittings should be easily bought locally (it can take months to source some of the recommended designs).
An annual visit by a builder with a scaffolding tower, and experienced climbers of such equipment, can give access to sensors and change high-level bulbs; this is the safest way forward. Those ancient wooden ladders at the back of many churches are often death traps.
With all installations — wiring and lights, water and serveries — check that all items are easily maintained, and can be repaired by a local contractor. At times, a church will have a churchwarden who has the experience to be on top of these items; many of us, however, have no experience, and need to build up a good relationship with a local and trustworthy maintenance contractor.
Your lighting plans may be part of a reordering plan. Look carefully at the way the building will be used afterwards. Ensure that access to all rooms is independent of passages through other meeting-rooms, or you may find that only one meeting-room can be used at a time.
If children’s groups are present, how are they protected when other rooms are in use? In one award-winning church design, the only indoor access to church services was through the community meeting-room, in which anything from aerobics to AA was happening throughout the day.
Check your building project for issues before, during, and after the works. In the Heritage Lottery Fund materials, applicants are asked for risk analyses at all these stages, and, in much the same way, look at the detailed plans for all the upsides and downsides, and resolve them before the project starts.
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