Exceptional construction program expands Base Chapel space

Construction scenes seem to be the norm recently at Hill Air Force Base due to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as President Barack Obama's stimulus plan. However, for the Base Chapel, seeing construction on its buildings is a rare and welcomed change.

"This is an extraordinary project because it is not often that chapels are either renovated or built on an Air Force installation," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Carl Wright, 75th Air Base Wing and Team Hill chaplain. "I have only known of two chapels that have been built or renovated in the past 10 years. One is at Buckley Air Force Base (Colo.) and the other is a chapel at an Air Force base in Alaska."

The Base Chapel was one of the programs at Hill AFB to receive construction funding from the presidential stimulus funding for several reasons.

"Around the year 2000, we recognized a need to expand the chapel due to the increasing number of worshipers," Wright said. "In addition to that need, the chapel is one of only two or three facilities on base that can accommodate more than 300 people. I want this chapel to be a base asset."

The $1.2 million construction project will expand the nave seating from 375 to 485 capacity, adding approximately 1,500 square feet of sanctuary and circulation space. New lighting and sound systems will be installed to meet both worship and meeting facility requirements.

Aesthetic changes include incorporating more windows and doors and replacing the existing dark wood paneling on the walls with lighter accents.

"The philosophy behind church architecture has changed since this chapel was built," Wright said, and noted the chapel was originally built in the mid-1960s. "Before, the idea of church architecture used to be that the church is a sanctuary that is a closed, safe place away from the rest of the world. Now, in our generation, the church architecture reflects the philosophy, 'Open it up.' You are coming into an open and inviting space that is not divorced from the world in which it is situated. God is not removed from the world; God is intimately involved in the world."

Making the church an organic part of the world and the natural landscape is the main focus of the new design features of the chapel's interior.

"The lighting is designed to accentuate the different liturgical seasons of the year," adds the project's manager, Richard Nehring, of the 75th Civil Engineering Squadron. Nehring's previous design renovations to the chapel's community kitchens won a design award in 2006 from the Air Force Materiel Command.

Nehring and his team — GSBS Architects, P.C., based in Salt Lake City — designed the chapel to accommodate multiple worship configurations as well as remain neutral enough to function as a business meeting space.

"While it is neutral, our chapel remains a sacred place," Wright said. "We welcome any event that honors God and country."

The chapel will also get a new baptistry near the altar, complete with a baptismal pool, a feature the chapel never had before. Previously, full-emersion baptisms were performed in the base swimming pools.

Energy-saving features will also be incorporated into the new design. Insulation will be installed into walls that previously had none, and energy-efficient lighting is featured in the designs.

Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and fire protection system upgrades will be implemented to comply with building codes and design program requirements. Other safety features have been incorporated into the chapel's design to meet Department of Defense Anti-terrorism Force Protection Standards to ensure protection of the primary gathering facility.

"Technically, this construction project is not any different from other construction projects we do on the base regarding building codes and security," Nehring said. "Although, because this facility's street proximity is a little different, it has been designed to meet the requirements of a primary gathering facility."

Construction is scheduled to be completed by March 2010, pending good weather conditions, and worshipers and meeting groups will be able to use the renovated chapel after that time. The chapel's annex and office spaces will remain in use while the nave is being expanded.

"I directly attribute the award of this project to the highly visible good work that my chapel staff members do on this base," Wright said, listing some of those works as the Air Expeditionary Force military family retreats and the flightline ministry center. "Our commanders are rewarding us for the outstanding work my staff has done in the past four years for our troops. We are really blessed that this project was awarded."

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