Update from the Trustees

By Karl Hoffman, president

Tasked with oversight of the property and assets of the church, the Trustees have a busy 2021 ahead of us.

The Trustees want to communicate with the congregation the numerous activities the Board is engaged in now and throughout 2021. To start, the new corporate officers of the church are: President, Karl Hoffman; Vice President, Aryn Myers; Treasurer, Doug House; Secretary, Tom Dunlap. The other Trustees are Craig Berry, Hal Hiemstra, Karin Lohman, Edie Snyder, and Richard Snyder.

HVAC Update
As the congregation knows, we have finally started on the major renovation of our 70-year-old Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. This process started almost eight years ago. At the time, the project seemed daunting with a price tag of several million dollars. The 2015 capital campaign started the financial ball rolling, raising funds to pay for the Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system installed on the fifth floor, benefiting both the congregation and our tenant, McClendon Center. In 2018, as part of our agreement with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), we paid for the installation of a VRF system in the Park Level (basement) using our Line of Credit. Per the agreement, the BID is paying back the cost of the HVAC over 180 months (15 years), the total length of the lease agreement we signed. This installation was completed in early 2019.

All of this work still left floors 1 – 4, including the Sanctuary, reliant on our old and failing system. Built with four compressors, each has failed at one point or another, each has been refurbished/rebuilt, and now two are permanently offline. The coolant our system uses is no longer made and our mechanical contractor must call around the country to find supplies. Other components are in various stages of failure. Even with the repairs, the system cannot adequately cool and heat the building. This has led to several instances of mold growing throughout the building, most seriously in the organ pipes. Remediation over the last several years has cost almost $300k. Starting in late 2019, a path forward was identified. With a few twists and turns along the way, and with a tremendous boost from the employment of John O’Brien as Interim Facility Manager, our new system has been designed and is now being installed.

What are the specs you ask? Floors 1 – 4, not including the Sanctuary, will utilize a VRF system, like the Park Level and the 5th floor. The Sanctuary system will be supported by one Air Handler Unit (AHU) using an air-cooled chiller and electric heat. The Sanctuary air will pass through a MERV 13 filter, and, at maximum, the air can be replaced 6 times per hour.

What is the impact on the building? The basement work area will see a number of changes. Work will remove significant amounts of asbestos piping and ductwork. An old boiler will be removed. The removal of old equipment will allow for the creation of a new room out of space freed up in the mechanical room in the Park Level. The electrical closet in the Park Level, along the H Street side where the nursery used to be, is undergoing some reworking so that the church’s electrical service can be upgraded to 2000 amps from a current 1200 amps. The roof above the elevators will see some significant construction to install cooling units and decorative screens to conceal the equipment.

What about the cost? The project will come in at $3.5 million. As intimidating as that number is, it is not a cost we could really avoid. The consumption of staff and volunteer time as well as almost $100k per year in triage and mold remediation demanded new action. The new HVAC system will also make our space more welcoming for potential tenants, building users, and members. In the short-term, we are paying for the new system primarily through borrowing from our Line of Credit. Anything above $3.2 million will be paid out of current church assets. In the longer term, the debt will be paid off via capital campaigns, bequests, and other giving. We would be remiss if we did not lift up two generous contributions made in late 2019/early 2020 given specifically for capital expenses: $100k from Tom and Karen Dunlap and $150k from Nancy Dickinson.

Many are no doubt wondering how much we will save on our electric bill. The answer: not sure. Our mechanical engineers have been reticent to provide a number. We do know by moving to an air-cooled system we will be saving on our water bill. We also know our new system will be more energy efficient. However, as noted above, in recent years we could only use our system at half power, and we may want to use our new system more vigorously to ensure comfortable temperatures. So actual savings, if any, remain to be seen.

When does the installation begin and when does it end? It has begun. Asbestos abatement, preparation work, and other breakdown activities started at the end of March. The end date is still up in the air, but we are hopeful by mid-July. The primary schedule driver is the one we can least control: equipment delivery. Our general contractor, ABM, is putting together the full schedule as we write this, and we have asked them to provide a simplified schedule that we will use to keep you abreast of the work’s progress.

Other projects this year include:

  • adding additional solar panels to our roof, once HVAC roof work is completed. This will provide additional utility savings,
  • installing a protective glass around the front desk to be completed in the next few weeks,
  • finalizing, contracting, and installing security improvements as outlined in our $100k security grant award,
  • overhauling our fire alarm system, a recently identified deficiency,
  • preparing the sanctuary for our return,
  • renovating the bathrooms of the church. Upon completion of the HVAC installation, the Trustees will turn their attention to this large project. The Trustees invite anyone who believes they can bring the necessary energy and insight to the project to reach out to Karl Hoffman, and
  • developing a Building Operations Manual. Our variety of systems, including our new security system require a manual that allows our staff and leadership to understand how things work in the building. Along with the church’s Facilities Manager and custodians, we need a few volunteers who have the time and talent to participate in this effort including writing and editing the document. If you feel called to assist, please let Karl know.

Tenant Updates
The past year was a challenging one for our tenants. Several have asked for rent abatements to which we have agreed. However, overall, many have paid at least something, and our rent collections remained strong for the year. The BID asked for use of the Radcliffe Room as a warming center during the winter which provided additional rental income.

And then recently, the BID asked to use the Radcliffe Room and their Park Level space as an overnight shelter. We agreed to terms regarding use of their space, but the HVAC project means no cooling for the Radcliffe Room, an untenable situation for overnight guests as we move through spring and summer. Currently, the BID is waiting on the city to provide some additional guidance before they can open the program.

Financial Oversight
With regards to the Trustees’ financial oversight responsibilities, we have moved to a new membership software system called Breeze, leaving our ACS system of many years. This new system more easily facilitates pledging, online giving, and membership management, and you will be hearing more about it soon. Already, the Treasurer reports hours of time saved processing weekly contributions.

Later this year we plan to transition our accounting software from the QuickBooks desktop version to the online version. This change will allow select individuals to access the books to review transactions and alleviate demands on our Finance Manager’s time. Finally, we are employing a new audit firm this year. While our previous auditors were excellent, we thought it was time to bid out our work. Our new auditors, Wegner CPAs, are both less expensive and specialists in auditing churches. We are excited to see what insights they can provide into our financial operations as they validate the excellent work of our financial team.

We will focus on some organizing actions in the second half of the year. As noted above, we will begin creating a Building Operations Manual which will be a complement to our Financial Manual created several years ago. Having lived with our Financial Manual for the past three years, our Treasurer will lead us in a substantial review to see how we can make it work better. Over the past several years, the church leadership has been using online shared drives, first, Dropbox, and now Google Drive. The Trustees will turn our attention to reorganizing our multitude of documents. The Trustees welcome assistance from any member who enjoys creating organization out of disorder.

We conclude with several thank yous:

  • John O’Brien (Interim Facilities Manager – Retired, Member) – his service over the last year has been invaluable in moving forward the HVAC project and giving insight into the day to day operations of our building. We thank him for getting us to firmer ground.
  • Elias Bazezew (Facilities Manager) – even within the few months he has been with us, we are already benefiting from his work ethic and experience in upgrading our facilities. We look forward to his leadership through the HVAC project and all the challenges, known and unknown, that our facilities will provide in the year ahead.
  • Lance Jameson (Finance Manager) – his steadfast work throughout the pandemic, meeting the challenges of our ever evolving financial system, and picking up new duties while the church has been closed, provides the Trustees great confidence in our books and our operations.
  • Doug House (Treasurer, Member) – almost two years ago, Doug offered to jump in and tease out some financial data to help Session make better sense of our situation. Little did he realize what that task entailed. Doug has spent countless hours in the weeds of the church’s books, bringing synchronicity between the Financial Manual and actual day-to-day activities, coherence between our audited numbers and our books, and clarity and humor when explaining it all. Be sure to thank him when you can. You can always buy a bottle of delicious wine from his store. If you don’t live in Arlington, be sure to ask him about his drone delivery service!

We expect to provide additional updates through AVENEWS as the year progresses. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the board members with your questions. Several members will be rotating off this year. If you feel called to share your talents, especially as they relate to investment experience and building repair/maintenance/contracting, please let us or the Nominating Committee know.

And again, we are seeking volunteers to assist with developing a Building Operations Manual, renovating our bathrooms, and organizing important church documents on our shared electronic drive. We would be glad to have your help.

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