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New Building Strategies

December 12, 2004

© 2004 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from NACBA Ledger

Growing churches and ministries often find themselves in the building / up-sizing process.  While such business essentials as telephones are usually factored into the planning process, computer systems are often forgotten.  Yet today’s ministries are dependent on the digital storage and movement of information we affectionately call data.  What needs to be considered when designing new buildings?  Let’s talk about it….

Planning Beyond Program
When looking at building plans in the design stage, program is usually what’s on everyone’s mind.  Whether it’s a church concerned about worship and education space, a camp focused on creating an environment that helps guests to experience God anew, or a rescue mission maximizing sleeping and educational space, one tendency often proves true: operational needs are not adequately planned.

This is not an intentional oversight!  It happens because those involved in design are usually most sensitive to program needs… likely the very reason why the ministry is growing!  While understandable, the results can hinder a team that wants to focus on program.

We recommend thinking about the operational needs the ministry will have when the new building’s program capacity is maximized.  Some good questions to ask are:

  • How many members of the program staff will we need?
  • How many support staff, like administrative assistants, will we need to support our program staff?
  • How many management staff will we need?
  • How many accounting staff will we need to process accounts payable, payroll, contributions, receivables, and the general ledger?
  • How many site support staff (buildings and grounds maintenance) will we need?
  • How many IT (Information Technology) and A/V staff will we need?

Asking these questions during the planning phase will help you design a site that can support the ministry in your vision.

What About Data Issues?
Planning for future data needs is challenging.  Data technology changes so fast, how can you know what your needs will be in 10-20 years?  While the exact details can’t be known, bringing in an IT strategist can help ensure that your needs are identified and provided for.  During design, the infrastructure needs to be strategized; that is, the system through which your data will travel.  In other words: cable.

What About Wireless?
That’s a great question!  The way folks are talking about wireless technology, it’d be easy to believe we’re past the need for cable.  But wireless technologies, even those on the near horizon, have significant limitations:

  • Slower Transfer Speeds.  Cabled connections transfer data as fast at 1000Mbps (MegaBits Per Second).  The fastest current wireless transfer rate is 54Mbps, although a 75Mbps solution is just around the corner.  Regardless, both are a fraction of cable speed and would choke with the size of today’s file transfers.
  • Dropped Connections.  It’s the nature of wireless connections that they fade in and out.  So it’s common to see connection speeds fluctuate all the way down to zero, which is, in effect, a dropped connection.  These can cause data loss and/or corruption.
  • Security.  Wireless connections can be made secure by configuring their security settings for 128-bit encryption or limiting which computers can access them.  Most wireless networks are not secure because this is overlooked, exposing them to attacks of all kinds.  Security is an important configuration step that can go a long way towards protecting your data and system.

So, when and where does wireless make sense?

  • In cafés where you’ll have guests wanting to access the Internet from their laptops, palmtops, and PDAs.  Two tips:
  1. Keep these connections separate from your network, and
  2. Make sure these connections can only reach the Internet through an appropriate content filter such as SurfControl (
  • Sometimes we need to connect buildings that are across the street from each other.  While cable would be the best way to go, a wireless connection can sometimes meet the need and save quite a bit of money.
  • Some older buildings are very difficult to pull cable through, and wireless may be able to get everyone connected.

The last two situations are definitely “compromise” solutions,

Cable Specs
All data cable currently in place within buildings should minimally be Category 5 cable (Cat5).  Anything less should be replaced as soon as possible.  When pulling new cable, the minimum spec is Cat5e, although Cat6 is preferable.  These will facilitate the fast transfer of data required by today’s networks.

Cabling between buildings— especially in areas prone to lightning strikes— should be fiber optic.  Although a bit more expensive to purchase and install (this cable requires the skills of a professional), it’s worth it to create a network backbone with virtually no distance limitation that won’t let lightning ruin your day.

A final and very important step when pulling new cable is to have a data cable vendor test and certify each connection with a cable analyzer.  These devices check to be sure each cable run is within the engineering specs necessary to ensure the safe transfer of data.

Anything Else?
Yes!  I’m glad you asked!

It’s always less expensive and easier to run conduit before cement is on the ground than it is to try to connect some locations afterwards.  A few places to consider are:

  • The platform in each location you anticipate the podium may be located (some speakers prefer to run their own slide shows),
  • The front of your fellowship room (again to facilitate the preference of some speakers),
  • The entry lobbies to your buildings (to facilitate event registrations and attendance entry),
  • Your classrooms (facilitating use of Internet connections in case you run a school or preschool now or in the future), and
  • The location of your custodial/maintenance room (allowing your custodial/maintenance team to pull lists of the day’s events and setup needs as well as email and Internet access for wiring diagrams, etc).

One other location worth mentioning is your conference room(s).  Consider pulling data cable and power to the center and buying conference tables that have ports for plugs and power built into the center of them.  This will make these rooms safer because they eliminate the cables that folks might trip over while also facilitating access to your data, email, the Internet, etc.  Adding a projector also enhances the quality of your meetings, and it should also have a connection in the middle of the conference table.

Well, there you have it.  Considering these recommendations will save your ministry money while also improving the quality of your environment and communications.

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