Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Churches / Foot Warmers & Blankets


HBI hired Mills Whittaker Architects to complete comprehensive assessments of conditions and systems at two important frame churches in Boston -- First Church in Roxbury and Second Church in Dorchester.  As that work draws to a close, Don Mills continues the Tale of Two Churches with a focus on staying warm efficiently in these two large meetinghouses.

First Church in Roxbury
A Tale of Two Churches / Foot Warmers & Blankets
Don Mills, Mills Whitaker Architects LLC

Gone are the days of foot warmers and heavy blankets in church, but thedraft-reducing box pews and challenges of temperature control are still present in two of Boston’s oldest wood-framed historic meetinghouses.  Condition assessments for First Church in Roxbury (1804) and Second Church in Dorchester (1805) have included reviews of heating system improvements since both churches struggle with this same issue that has confronted New England congregations since the early days of voluminous worship spaces.  Funded by Historic Boston Incorporated, the assessment of these two significant religious facilities has been performed by Mills Whitaker Architects.

In the case of First Church, a pair of undersized oil-fired furnaces located in the uninsulated cellar heats the existing sanctuary.   Earlier coal-fired furnaces, though deteriorated, are still present.  Delivering hot air via uninsulated ductwork to randomly spaced floor registers dating from multiple time periods, the space comfort from the existing furnaces is far from ideal.  However, since the facility does not host a congregation at the present time, the sanctuary is only used for special events and the heat is normally turned off.  The church proper is one of three interconnected buildings, including the 1876 Putnam Chapel and 2004 Urban Ministry Center, both of which are heated and in constant use.  There is now a keen interest in resurrecting the usability of the church for meetings of all kinds, and key to that success is the provision of a viable heating system that is appropriate and affordable.  Working within the constraints of limited resources and the historic facility, replacement of the furnaces with gas-fired units, insulated ductwork and other improvements are recommended, along with keeping the space above freezing when not in use in order to adequately protect interior finishes that need to be restored.

Second Church in Dorchester
At Second Church, the original sanctuary is also part of a complex, connected to adjacent chapel space (1869), parlors (1892) and parish house (1925-29).  Early coal-fired furnaces in this facility were replaced with modern steam heat when the parish house was constructed.  Cast iron radiators were recessed into the walls of the sanctuary below the windows, a process that included the unfortunate cutting and removal of timber braces between the sills and posts, a condition that was discovered and corrected when the deteriorated sills were replaced in 2003.  Prior to the sill repairs, the sanctuary heating system was abandoned in place due to multiple steam leaks and the expense of maintenance.  In contrast to First Church, Second Church hosts the ongoing activities of three congregations, none of which meet in the sanctuary during winter but welcome the opportunity to do so.  Given the presence of repaired wall recesses under the windows, the sensible approach to providing an appropriate replacement heating system for this church is to install a high-efficiency hot-water gas-fired boiler to serve gravity convectors within existing wall recesses, thereby not requiring any more disruption of the historic interiors.  The boiler installation would benefit from a recent gas conversion project that allowed for future expansion.

In both churches, the characteristic box pews of these historic meeting rooms will remain in place.  If only foot warmers and blankets could be normative once again...  

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