Members > Master Planning Commitee

Master Planning

Below are copies of articles from the Master Planning Committee which have appeared in our monthly newsletter, The Herald.

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March 2009

The MPC Finance Team is at work looking at ways to finance the master plan. A sub-committee is looking at the groundwork for a capital campaign. Other members of the team are researching grants and low-cost loans that may be applicable to specific elements of the overall plan.

An important element of the Master Plan that may tend to get overshadowed is the need for on-going maintenance planning. In our case this also includes tackling some deferred projects that had been identified in the original building survey. To address a significant number of these we have applied for a Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grant similar to the one we were awarded in 2001. If successful, we would receive matching funds of approximately $50,000, which would be applied immediately to exterior maintenance activities in parts of the church that are not affected by renovation or expansion plans. Please ask Steve Palmer or Richard L'heureux for more information.

Our next meeting will be Wednesday, February 25, 7pm at the First Church. All are welcome.

February 2009

The Master Plan Committee will be returning to full speed after enjoying a brief hiatus for the holidays. Our focus will be on completing the plan to include defined phases and well-developed finance plan element. We will also be gathering more information on ground source heating as a possible path to energy sustainability.

The next meeting will be scheduled during the first two weeks in February (tbd). We welcome all interested parties.

November 2009

Members of the Master Plan Committee made a presentation to the Congregation on October 19th. This included a description of the process and activities we have undertaken, and introduced a renovation plan that would add a new structure to the building and that would address our needs for space, for life-safety improvements, and for universal access. Life-safety and universal access improvements, new and re-located offices for the minister and administrator, and infrastructure upgrades would be accomplished in Phase One. This phase also lays the groundwork for renovation of Willson Hall, which would be completed in Phase Two. This plan is presented in four drawings that can be seen in the Cleveland Room. A member of the MPC will be available to answer questions during fellowship. We encourage all to have a look and ask questions. As this is a critical moment in the master planning process, we are especially interested in your comments.

The next meeting of the MPC is Thursday, November 6th, 7pm at the Church.


September 2008

The Master Plan Committee is currently grappling with the challenge presented by many competing needs and
desires, as well as finite resources. In order to help me think about this clearly, I often return to our mission statement. It reads:

The Master Plan Committee will create and maintain a master plan to guide the ongoing renovation and maintenance of the First Church building and grounds. Informed by Unitarian/Universalist principles, the master plan will consider and reflect all aspects of the current and future life of our growing community of worship, including:
Universal access to worship and community activities
Sustainability in financing, energy use and environmental impact
Respect for, and preservation of our unique heritage
Accommodation of the growing needs and opportunities to educate our youth
The expanding role of our congregation in the larger community

The scope is admittedly quite large. However, it is not difficult to see that some specific goals, as well as challenges, emerge from each of these bullets. For example,
Universal access to worship and community activities. This simple, bold assertion is difficult to challenge. In practice, however, there are many possible interpretations and many possible physical approaches we might pursue to achieve this. In addition, many rules and ordinances governing project design become applicable when buildings are renovated.
Sustainability in financing, energy use and environmental impact. As I wrote last month, our master plan must include a rational and sustainable funding plan. But if an investment could be made in the short-term to radically reduce the long-term cost of our energy use, we must consider it, even if it means deferring another element of the plan.
Respect for, and preservation of our unique heritage. Providing a safe, secure facility to manage and protect our archives is clearly a desirable goal. One might also interpret this statement to suggest that we make our archives more visible and accessible in the daily and weekly life of the church. Further, it can be argued that renovations to the meetinghouse must in some way accommodate the many historically significant features and artifacts now found there.
Accommodation of the growing needs and opportunities to educate our youth. We are blessed with a growing cohort of children and young adults, and we are presented with an opportunity to find ways to make their on-going connection with the church a reality. Among other resources, this will require space.
The expanding role of our congregation in the larger community. One material manifestation of this goal would be the renovation of Willson Hall, which would then provide a wonderful facility in which to host a very wide range of events and activities for community groups, as well as our own. It is often that case that new members have first become interested in a church because they attended a community event in its building. A different possible interpretation of this last bullet could be that we need to provide additional funding for our social outreach activity; pursuing building renovations that constrain our operating budget would take us in the other direction.
So you can see, the challenge to balance, sequence, and support these needs and wants, considered in the short, medium and long terms is very significant. This is the job that the MPC signed up to do, however, and we are looking forward to presenting our considerations and recommendations to the larger congregation. We ask that all members be prepared to participate in this very important discussion.

Presentation to the Congregation
We are planning a presentation to the congregation on Sunday, October 5, after service. The presentation will describe the process we have followed and present the rationale behind the major recommendations in the Master Plan that subsequently will be presented to the Standing Committee for approval. We hope that as many of you can come as possible. We encourage you to ask questions or raise concerns if you have them; please feel free to approach me or any committee member.

Steve Palmer  

August 2008

Master Plan Committee Update
August 2008

After a short hiatus the MPC has again picked up the detailed analysis of project elements, costs, and priorities. As we work through the interdependent pieces, it is sometimes painful to recognize that important and desired items must be deferred from the initial phase to future phases. The master plan must include a rational and sustainable funding plan.

As I mentioned last month, one of the major challenges has been to adopt a long-term view that envisions the active life of the church in fifty years or more. Members of the committee take this responsibility very seriously. We have, therefore, committed ourselves to looking very broadly and carefully at plans and alternatives for energy use and delivery systems. Conventional payback models can help with this analysis to a limited degree only. As with other project elements, we feel it is critical to see this as a moment of opportunity and responsibility that does not happen often.

In a similar case, the committee took steps to look at possible opportunities arising from the sale of the law office property at 314 Essex Street. We felt it would be unwise and inconsistent with our mission if we did not review this carefully, and so a sub-committee of members with architectural expertise toured the property and received information from the realtor. Based on their analysis that the property is unsuitable and would present management challenges, the MPC will decline to pursue this further.

Presentation to the Congregation
We are approaching a moment when the work of the committee should be presented to the congregation. The MPC is planning a presentation of a draft master plan to the full congregation, most likely in the last week of September. You will hear more about this as we approach that date. We feel that it is extremely important that as many members of the congregation participate as possible. We encourage you to ask questions or raise concerns if you have them; please feel free to approach me or any committee member

July 2008

Master Plan Committee Update
July 2008

The MPC is pleased to announce that we will soon break ground for the construction of the new First Church swimming pool. Unfortunately, the Ferris wheel will have to be deferred until phase two…

Sorry, just kidding. I wanted to bring some levity to the otherwise very serious discussion.

While swimming pools, Ferris wheels, and jai alai frontons (which could generate significant gambling revenue!) have not been part of any of our discussions, we have considered and researched all elements of the building and grounds that might affect the life and operation of the church for years to come. One of our major challenges has been to extend our planning horizon in the way church leaders did in 1927. The result of their vision is the precious and well-used space in our annex, including our beloved Cleveland and Barnard rooms and classrooms upstairs. This space supports integral and vital activities of our community some eighty years on.

We have a similar opportunity and responsibility to contemplate the future needs of the church community as it and the world around it change. Considerations include the explosion of energy costs, our opportunities to be a community resource, access for the disabled, and the growth of our own membership, among many others. In last month's update I pointed out that the total list of needs and wants carries a price tag that exceeds the funds now available for renovation expense. Therefore, this master plan will prioritize some items and defer others. It is critical that these decisions are made rationally and optimally in the context of the entire list and a long-term view.

Presentation to the Congregation
We are approaching a moment when the work of the committee should be presented to the congregation. The MPC is planning a presentation of a draft master plan to the full congregation, most likely in the last week of September. You will hear more about this as we approach that date. We feel that it is extremely important that as many members of the congregation participate as possible. We encourage you to ask questions or raise concerns if you have them; please feel free to approach me or any committee member.

June 2008

Master Plan Committee Update
June 2008

During April and May the MPC has progressed from consideration of space use concepts to potential renovation plans. To facilitate this process, and with assistance from MTS, projects that would address the needs and uses previously defined have been grouped as "like" or related. These groupings seek to allow rational costing, reduce expense, limit disruption, and achieve specific goals. For example, a Group A has been defined to include upgrading the electrical service and improving the sanctuary lighting and egress; Group B includes renovation of the basement kitchen, installation of an elevator and second staircase, etc.

I should also make it clear that a master plan that contemplates all of the identified needs and wants for the church, whether immediate or longer-term, will carry a price tag that exceeds the funds now available for renovation expense. We should not be discouraged by this fact, but rather see this moment as an opportunity to plan with full intention and with all options on the table. These options include limiting the scope of projects, phasing the overall plan to permit future funding, and seeking additional funding sources. The MPC finance committee is currently researching these potential funding sources.

The team expects to make a presentation of a draft master plan to the full congregation, probably in the fall. In the meantime, however, we invite any and all inquiries. Upcoming meetings will be scheduled according to the workflow; please consult the e-Herald or ask a team member if you wish to attend or have any questions.

April 2008

March has been a very exciting month for the team. With Lynne Spencer and Patrick Guthrie facilitating, we have reviewed a number of different concepts for space use allocation. Each has been scrutinized as to advantages and disadvantages. Through this process we are identifying the most important needs, possibilities and constraints. To view this progression of space use proposals, please speak with any member of the MPC.

MTS has provided a detailed analysis of our compliance with building, life-safety, and access codes that includes recommendations for meeting these within different renovation scenarios. In addition, they have provided analyses of elevator options that might be pursued to achieve universal access.

We have also begun to look at our electrical and heating systems (including sanctuary lighting!) to understand their current state and consider recommendations for improvement. Thanks to the Property committee and especially to Joe Perron for providing insight into how our old building actually works.

The next meeting of the full Master Planning Committee will be on Wednesday, April 16th, 7:00pm at the First Church. All are welcome.

March 2008

Having collected space use information through "needs assessment" surveys of all First Church committees and groups, the team was ready to look at alternative ways of meeting those needs. At our February meeting last week, Lynne Spencer and Patrick Guthrie of Menders, Torrey and Spencer presented visuals of three alternative approaches to meet our projected needs as well as the elements of our mission statement. These are concepts, rather than designs, that were intended to catalyze discussion (and indeed they did!). Two of the three assumed no expansion of the building, while the third proposed additional space on the northeast side of our lot. Some additional approaches or refinements will be considered at our next meeting.

In addition, we commissioned a site survey to create a complete site plan. This is a baseline document that identifies all key elements of the site, many of which were not well known to us. A copy will shortly be on display in the Cleveland Room.

It is very exciting to begin to visualize the possible ways in which the church will be improved! The next meeting of the full Master Planning Committee will be on Monday, March 10th, 7:00pm at the First Church. All are welcome.


February 2008

The MPC is now diving into the work of creating a master plan with the help of Lynne Spencer, David Torrey and their team at Menders, Torrey and Spencer. We are pursuing an aggressive schedule that will lead to a presentation to the full congregation in May, possibly at the annual meeting. The focus of February activities will be to complete a survey of existing conditions, and to capture all of the inputs that relate to our use of space, referred to as "programming".

The existing conditions survey will describe the current state of the physical plant, including such things as energy use, compliance with building codes, site plan, and many other elements. The programming activity is well underway. "Needs assessment" surveys have been collected from key communities within the Church including Religious Education, Music, Fellowship, Property, Archives, and Administration. This information will be integrated to form a comprehensive program of needs.

This is a critical period for identifying all considerations for the ongoing use of the church; please feel free to speak with any of the committee if you have questions, concerns or ideas. The next meeting of the full Master Planning Committee will be on Tuesday, February 26th, 7:00pm at the First Church. All are welcome.

January 2008

In December the Architect Selection team had an initial meeting with Lynne Spencer of Menders, Torrey and Spencer for the purposes of identifying a work process and determining information requirements. This team, which was organized to undertake the selection process, will make a transition to function as the liaison to the larger Master Plan Committee. The members are Joan Hannah, Bill Henning, Richard L'Heureux, Paul Madore, Hobby Sides, and Lynn Taggart. This group will be the "runners" and communicators, while the larger MPC retains the decision-making role, within its authority.

It is gratifying to realize that we are already well underway by virtue of the work that has been done, including the member surveys, Kobi's archival research, Jeff's historical narrative, the "needs and wants" map assembled by Lynn Taggart, the Structures North survey, the work of the Property committee, and, of course, steps taken to secure financing for this overall activity. Much remains, of course, and we of the MPC are well aware how eager the entire congregation is to progress.

Lynne Spencer and her partner David Torrey will attend the next meeting of the Master Planning Committee that will be on Tuesday, January 22nd, 7:00pm at the First Church. All are welcome.

December 2007

At its November meeting the MPC voted unanimously to accept the proposal of its Architect Selection sub-committee to hire the firm of Menders, Torrey and Spencer to facilitate the development and implementation of a master plan. The six members of the sub-committee were unanimous in recommending MTS, which emerged from a group of highly qualified and competent candidates. Among the key reasons cited for selection were:
Fit with the nature and scope of our project. MTS is a ten-person firm with extensive experience in non-profit or worship organizations and historically significant buildings
MTS demonstrated a methodology that will work very well with our democratic institution
MTS partners clearly grasped the importance and challenge of balancing sustainability and preservation considerations
The quality of their references, notably the First Parish Church in North Andover, which has much in common with our own community and building.

In addition, the Architect Selection team felt strongly that we would work very well together. This was reinforced by feedback from the members of the First Parish in North Andover, who spoke enthusiastically of their experience with MTS. Team member Paul Madore, who toured the First Parish in North Andover as part of the selection process, is coordinating visit(s) there in December for First Church members. The MPC cordially invites any who wish to come. Please see Paul or myself for more information.

November 2007

During the next two weeks, the Architect Review team of the Master Planning Committee will be interviewing the three candidate firms who are finalists for our selection. These firms were selected based on their responses to our Request for Proposal and subsequent conversations. The responses were assessed using a comprehensive rubric that addressed as many considerations as the team could consider, including size, experience with similar projects, fee structure, breadth of resources, and many others. In addition, the Architect Review team interviewed references provided by the firms and visited completed project sites to speak with clients and see finished products. As the selected firm will be first and foremost a facilitator of our master planning process, it is extremely important to understand how it will work with the First Church community.

The upcoming interview process will consist of a presentation by each firm followed by a question and answer period. The AR team has defined a list of questions that have been or will be shared with the firms in advance. The team has invited other members of the congregation to attend, but asks that any additional questions be submitted through the team so that the process is as fair as possible to each of the candidate firms. The first of these scheduled interviews is Thursday, November 1, followed by two on Sunday, November 11. Betty Nichols will videotape these sessions. For more information on this process and the candidate firms, please feel free to approach any member of the MPC.

October 1

I am pleased to report on progress we have made in the last few months toward the creation of a master plan for renovation and maintenance of the First Church. Having collected information from the congregation through a survey, we combined these inputs with a previous member survey completed in 2000 and the very detailed architectural survey from Structures North. We then identified all of these issues and performed a grouping and weighting exercise to organize them into manageable pieces. The result of this activity is shown in the splendid map produced by Lynn Taggart, which has been on display in the Cleveland Room.

Because of the complexity of our goals and interests it became clear early in the process that we would need to hire a professional firm to facilitate the creation and execution of our Master Plan. We formed a sub-committee to manage the Architect Review process, which would lead to a recommendation to engage a firm. The project map was therefore converted into a Request for Proposal (which may be seen on the MPC page on the FC website).

The RFP was sent to a list of sixteen firms identified suggested by church members, local experts, and Structures North. Ten of the sixteen responded with expressions of interest or proposals; the Architect Review committee then narrowed the group down to three finalists whose proposals, structure, approach and methodology were most likely to create a strong working relationship with the church. We are currently scheduling interviews with the three finalists for the first week in November.

In parallel with this long-term activity, we are working through known issues that remain from the comprehensive Structures North survey. Some of these are separable, discrete tasks, while many of them are related or dependent on other as yet undefined projects.

I would like to commend the members of the committee for their hard work, creative input, and spirit of adventure and fellowship in this process. For those not directly involved in the process, it may not be obvious how many considerations, constituents, and details are involved. The MPC might have let itself be overwhelmed, but has instead proceed with clear-headed enthusiasm and, to my mind, has generated significant momentum in short amount of time. Thanks, and more to come…