A few things to consider for your next building project...
For many, it seems we have "turned the corner" in the COVID-19 pandemic. Churches are seeing a return to in-person worship. In many cases, tithes and offerings are increasing again. Many churches that were worried about beginning a capital project during COVID are brushing off old plans, reaching out to architects and general contractors, and beginning to look at going through with their construction projects. However, as we travel and meet with churches every week, there are a few themes that keep recurring that would benefit all churches to keep in mind.
#1 - In VERY few instances, you will need a complete set of permit plans signed and stamped by architects and engineers. Very few jurisdictions will let you make any kind of meaningful renovations to your existing building and virtually none will let you build a new building without a complete set of "Construction Documents." Don't think you can take a simple floor plan down to the local building official and get a permit for your project. And, PLEASE, don't think you can pull off a project "without the authorities knowing." You can get yourself and your church into some serious financial trouble if you try to circumvent the system. You may have built that "new" Family Life Center 30 years ago with a napkin sketch and some volunteer labor, chances are you will not get away with it this time. Invest in doing it right the first time before the local building officials "catch" you and fine you for trying to take the cheap or easy way out. Pay for the full set of construction documents.
#2 - Those construction documents will be more expensive than you thought. Professional services are like any other commodity. Over time, their costs increase. You are not going to find an architect or a civil engineer who will design your building for what you paid last time. It will be more expensive. Prepare yourself now.
#3 - While we're on the topic of costs increasing, let's talk about construction costs. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation in the construction industry was fairly consistent within a geographic region. Where we are based, construction costs had been rising at a pretty steady 6.5% - 7.5% per year. Those numbers have skyrocketed in the last 2 years. We have seen overall construction costs increase in the 14% - 20% range in some cases. ALSO, churches have a bad habit of planning and pricing a construction project and then waiting years to actually go through with the project. If you were quoted $2 million 3 years ago for your new building, please understand that same building will NOT cost you $2 million today.
#4 - There are a number of high-quality, reputable general contractors who specialize in church construction. There are also a number of perfectly capable commercial contractors who are willing to and able to build your new church building. However, construction is a competitive and unpredictable business. Those cost increases we mentioned above affect general contractors on a daily basis. They might bid a project and have those numbers be completely unreasonable 3 months later when the sub-contractor actually performs the work. Understand, even if you have a guaranteed maximum price contract, there will be fluctuations to pricing. And, a general contractor is in business to make money. She or he will want to recoup that extra money somehow. Unless you are a professional construction manager, you need to hire one. Find someone who can speak Church to a contractor and who can speak Contractor to a church. Find a construction manager who will place your best interests over those of the contractor and who will protect your church financially. You NEED to hire a "middle man" whose sole job is to keep the contractor on time and on budget and to ensure that you receive the building you wanted in the timeframe and within the budget you wanted. Without a construction manager, you might as well just go ahead and budget 10-15% extra into what you plan to pay the contractor, because you WILL end up spending it.
#5 - Don't forget about the "soft costs." Remember, there is more to a building than just a building. You will need to budget the cost of professional services such as architects and engineers. There will be permitting costs associated with your project. And, you will need to furnish the new building, install A/V, insure it, have an ADA inspection, and landscape it. These costs are often not included in the "cost of construction" and can surprise some people when the bills start appearing.
The most important thing you can do to help protect yourself against "sticker shock" is to hire a reputable consultant BEFORE you even begin planning for the project. Find someone who can work with you from your initial idea, into design development, and through the close of construction.