We wanted to provide an update on the status of our organ and platform project, as we’ve received questions about whether it’s happening or not due to the stay-at-home order. We’re pleased to announce that we are moving forward, and we hope that the information below, though somewhat lengthy, will answer many of your questions about the project.
This summer, provided our ability to return to in-person worship is restored in Montgomery County, church services will take place in the auditorium at Spencerville Adventist Academy. The timing for this change is still in flux, but will likely occur no later than the first week of June. A cross-disciplinary team has been convened to advise church leadership on how best to proceed. At this time, no decisions have been made regarding our Sabbath School classes; however, they represent a significant portion of the discussion. Watch the Weekly Update and Spencerville social media for more information as it’s available.
Last year, the church board requested that the church take action to repair the organ, which has been experiencing a decline in function, punctuated by random sour notes during play—often occurring during worship. When our technicians examined the problems closely, they determined that it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. Several items related to the electronic control were old and non-functional, and there were issues associated with an improper installation many years ago. Given the relationship of the organ to worship at Spencerville Church, a campaign to fully refurbish the organ represents a significant portion of this project. The latest information that we’re receiving from the vendor is that we can expect the next phase of organ refurbishment to be completed by September of this year.
The goal of the refurbishment is to return the organ to “better than new” condition. We’ve been told by the technicians that we can expect better performance than when it was initially installed, due to improvements in technology as well as corrective measures to address issues related to installation.
Part of the organ project involves rebuilding the organ console. Much of the back of the current console is full of electronics dating back to the 1980s. As you might expect, the same level of control can be achieved today with a smaller footprint. The console will decrease in height slightly, enabling better visibility for the musician. It’s worth mentioning our firm commitment to aesthetics that will keep the look of the rebuilt console consistent with that of the cabinet (surrounding the pipes).
Finally, since its installation, the organ has required a “snake,” or large cable to follow it wherever it moves on the platform. Much like the electronics, what once required a large mass of bundled wires can now be accomplished with a single Cat6 cable, similar to what you’d find plugged into your internet router at home. Strategic cable drops will be placed in floor pockets on the platform so we can connect the organ to the location closest to the instrument. Doing so will improve the aesthetics and remove a tripping hazard for those on the platform.
As we examined the scope of this project in the sanctuary, several other issues became apparent. Our organ and piano reside on a platform that is rapidly deteriorating. The slate, a brittle material, has not responded well to repeated moves of the piano and organ. For several years, we’ve endured slate rubble on the platform as the tiles failed and fell apart. Many a musician has commented upon seeing its condition, “Wow, I didn’t know it was this bad.” A closer inspection also revealed condition issues with the substructure, none of which have become safety concerns (yet), but which we should address given the opportunity. Within the platform itself, we’ve also experienced some intermittent functionality related to our low and high-voltage electrical systems. These issues are likely related to age.
As we considered the condition of the platform, we wanted to position ourselves well for the next 30-40 years. When we surveyed the platforms of many of the large churches in our denomination, along with several concert halls, we landed on hardwood as the solution of choice for the newly rebuilt platform. The wood will give us a bright, warm sound, and its color will improve the ambient lighting in the room. We’ve charged our decorating committee with reviewing the color and finish of the wood.
One of the project goals for the platform was to provide the church with the highest level of flexibility. The weekly worship service offers a beautiful mix of music, bringing us choirs sized from 25 people up to the Adventist Children’s Chorus (ACC), which approaches 90. During our high Sabbaths, we often host ACC, an orchestra, and a bell choir. When you add a grand piano and an organ console, our musicians and platform participants experience a severe shortage of space. The new platform will include additional space in the form of “wings” on each side. The default position for the piano will be on the left, with the organ on the right. We’ve worked with the architect to ensure that greater than wheelchair-width aisles will be maintained around the beams and doors so that ingress and egress from the sanctuary will remain safe.
Continuing with the theme of flexibility, one of our members suggested what (at the time) seemed like a “pie in the sky” idea of using motorized, deployable choir risers as a way of accommodating larger groups on our platform. This riser configuration will allow us to enjoy a similar arrangement to what we currently have, or to drop two of the three risers to platform level, increasing our platform capacity. We’ve consulted a local fabricator and contractor as to the pricing and viability of such a solution. After several revisions, we’re pleased to share that we are moving forward with a safe, cost-effective, and well-designed deployable riser solution as part of the new platform.
We look forward to providing more information for this part of the project as it becomes available. Watch the updates in our Weekly Update email newsletter.
One of the things you may notice in the renderings is the relocation of the baptistry from the front of the platform to slightly further back on the same side. The mechanicals for the current baptistry are old, and as many deacons can testify, work somewhat intermittently. We’ve come close to flooding the sanctuary several times when the floats have failed to shut-off the water as they should have. The tub itself also has several structural issues, including cracks on the bottom surface. In addition to the tub and mechanicals, the stone surrounding the tub cracked in the earthquake of 2011. For safety reasons, the stone was reattached—glued in place for safety. Unfortunately, this permanent solution of attachment prevents access to many of the mechanical systems and is not a sustainable solution when working on aging equipment.
Moving the baptistry back on the platform also opens up the sightlines for those in the north-side rooms. Improving the worship experience for those in our side-room seating is of increasing importance as we continue to grow.
As the opportunity to address the electrical and sub-structure of the platform was made available, we saw another opportunity to improve the listening experience in the sanctuary. As anyone who’s attended Spencerville for a concert can testify, the space is brilliant when it comes to music. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the spoken word. Many of you have approached the pastoral staff and deacons asking if there is any way to improve the intelligibility of the sermon, with several choosing to sit in the foyer or south porch spaces in order to hear the message. Don McNeill and his team should be commended for their many years of service on a system that runs at the ragged edge of its performance. They’ve expertly balanced sound levels in a space that lacks any “headroom” whatsoever to try and make the audio usable with an incomplete toolbox.
As part of this update, we’re going to make improvements to the audio system. The goals for the updates are two-fold. First, to improve the intelligibility of audio in the sanctuary so that sound levels are equal no matter where you sit in the sanctuary. Second, to improve the worship and listening experience for the online congregation for both church services and concerts. In the room, this involves an improved strategy for sound collection and distribution, including new speakers and new controls. Our room was modeled in 3D and the final solution places the speakers in locations where sound from the audio system can be more directly blanket the congregation—removing opportunities for it to bounce around the room causing disruptive reflections. The vendor came to our space to demonstrate the proposed speaker solution, and its performance was beyond our expectations. In addition, we are adding new hanging microphones over the stage and pew areas that will offer better sound and a better sense of space when viewing online. These microphones will be especially advantageous for special musical events, such as choirs, orchestras, the bell choir, and more.
Our present sanctuary projector and screen arrangement has long been a less than ideal solution. The technology is outdated and the size of the screen falls short of what is necessary to provide a quality viewing experience for every seat in the sanctuary. Many discussions have taken place over the years to determine the best way to add screens to the sanctuary without compromising the beautiful aesthetic. It’s clear that media and its use during worship-related events isn’t something that will be going away. The question was no longer “screens or no screens,” but rather how to tastefully approach the installation of screens to maintain the beauty of our sanctuary.
After consulting with many vendors and considering the viability of still more solutions, we are confident that we’ve arrived at the right answer. Unfortunately, the cost for the right solution outstrips the funding for this project. Because of the size necessary to serve the full depth and width of the room, in addition to the mechanical complexity of an ascending screen, the estimated cost for this phase is between $175,000 and $190,000. As you can see in the renderings, we are pursuing an ascending screen solution that will deploy out of the platform floor. This provides the ability to extend and retract the screens quickly, allowing the space to accommodate video, but also return to a “screen-less” look in around 30-seconds. What we’ve opted to do is phase the installation for the video screens. As the new platform is built, the cavities for the screens and the related wiring will be installed. We will well-positioned to install the screens and projectors in a second phase of this project down the road.
The recommendation to refinish came from the Decorating Committee in response to significant wear and condition issues on pews throughout the sanctuary. In many cases, the finish on the backs and ends had completely worn away, leaving not only a surface prone to further damage but also one that could not be adequately cleaned or disinfected.
Refinishing our pews had been discussed several times previously within the Facilities Management Committee, as well as in our deacon’s meetings. However, timing has always been one of the primary barriers to the project. Going for weeks without pews in the sanctuary under normal circumstances would be difficult and even more expensive. We’d need to rent chairs while the pews were refinished. However, with the sanctuary seating not in use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the timing was no longer a barrier.
As you can see in the photo above, the vendor has already collected the center section of pews from the sanctuary. The project will include refinishing all pews from the sanctuary, north side sanctuary rooms, foyer, hallway, and conference room. Every pew in the building will be refinished. They will be stripped, sanded, and re-stained. The sample we’ve received is beautiful and quite comfortable. And with the new cushions installed, we think your posterior will agree.
Our goal is to start this project as soon as possible. The original intent was to begin the week after graduation. However, with the stay-at-home order in place, we may opt to move the date up, starting instead in late-May. It is anticipated that we will return to worship in our sanctuary in early to mid-August. In the interim, once approval has been received to return to worship, we will be meeting to worship in the auditorium of Spencerville Adventist Academy. As has been mentioned previously, our goal is to facilitate a hybrid in-person/online worship experience for those who wish to attend, as well as those who worship from home.
We welcome your questions on the project. Please direct all questions to the church office through the website contact form.