As I looked at the question that had popped up on my email this morning I thought to myself, “Wow, which direction should I go with this?” I can look at this strictly for what do we need to do with our buildings after being away from them for as long as three months. Or, should I broaden this out and speak about what changes we might need to do when beginning to re-enter the building to worship? For today, I think I will look at what do we need to do as we pull back the dust cloths and re-enter our spaces.
Answering questions about buildings has always been easy for me, as I come from a background where my father was always involved in building projects. In fact, one of my earliest memories is helping my dad build a boathouse at the lake when I was three. This was also the first time that I walked through finished wet concrete. I think my love for construction and buildings led me down the career path that I ultimately followed. I found myself in the civil engineering and land surveying field for 35 years, and I loved every day of it. If you had told me that I would be working with churches on a daily basis 20 years ago, I would have laughed. But, 18 years ago, I met my ‘would-be’ wife. She was the Pastor of a Disciples church in Joplin, Missouri, which is where I had lived since moving there for college. I soon began getting to know and understand church buildings and everything that went with them.
I really got to know them in 2011, when an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, taking 161 lives and destroying more than 8,000 homes, 500 businesses, and 40 church buildings. It didn’t destroy ours, but the building was badly damaged. I oversaw the reconstruction of our three-level limestone behemoth. I also had the honor of helping many of those congregations that lost their entire buildings with reconstruction. It was during this time that I became aware of Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) and its work with congregations and worship space. At first, I was asked to consult on projects with DCEF staff. Then, six years ago, I was asked to join the ministry and to add my building and construction experience to their 130-plus years of working with congregations with their facilities.
So, back to the question asked….
It is easy for me to make a list of things that will need to be done to our buildings after having been away from them for a lengthy period of time. This is the same list I will be using as we begin talking about re-entering my wife’s current church.
- A deep cleaning of the entire building, including disinfecting and sanitizing of all those surfaces that people come into contact with, including door handles, light switches, tables, chairs, pews, communion table, communion ware, nursery and children’s areas and toys, just to name a few. Have your floors and carpets professionally cleaned and sanitized, as well. Care needs to be taken to protect those who are doing the deep cleaning, especially if they are our volunteers. Knowing how to properly use the cleaning products, and supplying what personal protection is needed, is first and foremost. Care should also be taken to see what cleaning products can be used to kill the coronavirus, and what products can be safely used on various surfaces. We want to kill the virus, but we don’t want to ruin all of our wooden surfaces. Here is a link that shows what cleaning products are approved by the CDC.
- We have been out of our buildings, so systems like water have not been used. You need to turn on ALL of the faucets in the building and flush out the stagnant water that has been sitting in the unused pipes. Why? Coronavirus isn’t transmitted through our water system, after all. Most of us know that our water supplies are made safe by chlorination or other chemical processes, but what some don’t know is that chlorine evaporates out of water after 30-45 days. If it does, stagnant water will be left that is capable of hosting bad bacteria. Running the faucets and water fountain for 10 minutes, and flushing the toilets two or three times, will get fresh and sanitized water flowing back through our pipes.
- If you can, you should drain your water heater. This actually should be on your building’s maintenance schedule to do annually. If you can’t drain your tank at the drain valve for whatever reason, turn on the hot water taps of all of your sinks at the same time and allow the water to run for 20 minutes to flush your tank.
- Check your gas appliances to make sure that pilots are lit if you have pilot lights and, if you have electronic starters, that the gas is flowing and nothing has plugged any orifices. For some reason, tiny spiders like to get into those spaces.
- Refill floor drains. Unless you enjoy the smell of rotten eggs, this is something that should be on your building’s maintenance schedule to do two or three times a year. This is an easy fix: add a quart of water to each drain and top it off with a teaspoon of vegetable oil. The oil keeps the water from evaporating from the trap so quickly.
- Have your A/C units inspected and the filters changed. The virus can live up to twice as long in an environment that is 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celcius) with 70% humidity than it can in one that’s set to 72 degrees F (22 degrees C) and 50% humidity. That doesn’t mean we want our buildings to be meat lockers, just that we should be mindful of the environment that we create. There were two questions posed to me the other day: 1. Do we need to add air purifiers or change out our filters weekly for our HVAC units. My answer at this time is no. To date, there have been no studies I’ve seen that indicate the need for this. 2. Should we set up fans so that we have more air circulating through the facility? My answer to this is yes… but. Circulating the air is good, but not when you have people in the space. If you can open up windows when the temperature is cool, and you can get fresh air moving through the facility, that is great. But when you have your socially distancing congregation sitting in the space, you want to minimize that air moving through the space. Shut off those ceiling fans during worship. Check out your cooling system; are the diffusers such that they blow across the worship space? If so, maybe you can redirect them so that they now just blow straight up/down or toward a wall rather than across the people. We want to limit air being moved from one congregant to another.
- Installing hands-free fixtures and conveniences in our buildings. These can be in our restrooms with no-touch faucets, soap dispensers, towel dispensers or air-dryers, and auto-flush fixtures. In addition, you can install automatic light switches for offices, classrooms, hallways, and restrooms. We can look into the installation of automatic door openers at our facility entries. These are all things to consider to minimize places of contact for multiple people.
I’m certain that there will be more things that will need to be done than what is listed here to get ready to re-enter our buildings. These, however, are a few that have been on my mind the last few days. Most of these things we can do ourselves, but some require the skills and attention of a professional. If our church leaders make the decision to move forward with the ‘no-touch’ upgrades, there will need to be funds available, as well. This is something else that DCEF can help with. All of the items that would be needed for a no-touch facility would actually qualify as one of our low-interest accessibility loans. If this is something that you would like to learn more about, contact the Building and Capital Services Advisor for your Region. At DCEF, we believe that even though we can’t come together in body right now, the church is still the heart of the community and the world. We are proud to be your partner during these uncertain times of COVID-19.
In closing, I want to mention a Zoom webinar I recently participated in with the Southwest Region where we discussed how movement in our buildings will be different when we reoccupy our worship spaces. To hear that conversation, click here.
Jim Michel brings nearly 40 years of experience in civil engineering and land surveying, plus proficiency in facilities and construction management, to his position as Building and Capital Services Advisor. He oversees DCEF’s architectural consultants. Jim also serves as DCEF’s Disaster Response Coordinator. Having helped his home congregation in Joplin, Mo., rebuild after an EF-5 tornado struck in 2011, he understands intimately how vulnerable congregations are after a disaster. Jim lives in North Liberty, Iowa, with his wife, Rev. Jill Cameron Michel, and their sons Cameron and Teegan.
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.