Posted in projects on November 3, 2014 10:54 am EST

Case Study: Tennessee Church Rebuilds After Devastating Fire

A metal building is saved by a firewall, becoming the impetus for the design and building of an all new sanctuary.

Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tenn., is rebuilt on sustainable footing. Images courtesy of Butler Builder.











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TAGS: building envelope, collaboration, reconstruction, sustainability,


By Church Designer Staff

In December 2010, Mount Calvary Baptist Church should have been preparing for Christmas celebrations. Instead, the congregation found itself without a house of worship. That month, a fire gutted the National Baptist church in Knoxville, Tenn.

No one was injured in the blaze, but the fire damaged a recently completed multi-purpose area used for Bible study and other church events. The church sanctuary, built in the 1960s, was a total loss—save one very important symbol.

“The only part of the sanctuary left standing was the steeple and our cross,” says Rev. Leroy Franklin, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist.

The leadership vowed to rebuild. In the meantime, a local middle school opened its auditorium to the church for Sunday worship the week of the fire. The following Sunday, Mount Calvary worshipped in the gym inside the church’s Life Center.

“By using systems construction, we got the main structure up and the roof installed quickly, enabling us to start tie-in work to connect the structures early."

—Justin Hall, Project Manager, Joseph Construction, Knoxville, TN

Grateful for little things

Other than the smell of smoke and ash, the Life Center was undamaged, thanks to a firewall that Joseph Construction Co. Inc., a Knoxville design-build firm, and Butler Builder installed when the center was constructed in 2006. Because the Life Center was still intact, it gave the church a temporary place of worship as well as a place to deliberate about how the new sanctuary would look and function.

The Life Center is a Butler building with an MR-24 roof system. The firewall, and the fact that the Life Center is a metal building—with a metal roof—were reportedly big factors in avoiding the additional damage.

“Basically, all the damage stopped at the firewall,” says Justin Hall, project manager with Joseph Construction. “From that point on, we didn’t need to do any cleanup work or renovations.”

Joseph Construction also handles disaster cleaning and restoration, and after the fire it removed the rubble and cleaned up the smoke and water damage.

“They showed up while the fire was still burning and offered their assistance with cleanup,” Franklin says. “We were very grateful for their help.”

Enhancing curb appeal

Construction began in May 2012, about 18 months after the fire. Mount Calvary wanted an updated sanctuary and meeting space to accommodate its steady growth. The church already had two Sunday services and was looking to add worshipper capacity.

Church officials wanted more street exposure. The old sanctuary sat atop a hill, but the bustling church wasn’t very visible from the road or from the bottom of the hill. Joseph Construction and Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects Inc., a Knoxville-based architecture firm, recommended that the new sanctuary face east, making it shorter and wider. The previous sanctuary pointed west, and it was longer and narrower. Adding lights around the exterior and on the cross increased its nighttime visibility.

“From the bottom of the hill, now all you can see is the church,” Franklin says. “It’s a very positive, powerful symbol.”  continued >>