New Building Updates

October 14, 2015
The pace of work at the building site continues at full speed as painters, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, insulators, and drywall hangers all make headway.

Outside, carpenters are installing pre-painted clapboards on the farmhouse, are working to trim windows and soffits, and are ready to start installing pre-stained wood siding on the sanctuary. If Mother Nature is kind to us, we might get a final coat of paint and stain on the building. But it looks like that might have to wait for spring. Site work is ready to resume at the site, with additional topsoil to be graded into the lawns surrounding the building. The coming round of site work will be especially apparent from the front, with the creation of the new driveway and parking area and the removal of the construction trailer

Inside, priming of the sanctuary walls is nearly finished, and paint crews are ready to move northward, through the ell and into the farmhouse, hard on the heels of the drywall hangers, tapers, and sanders. Finish carpenters begin work in the sanctuary shortly, A heater has been running in the sanctuary to speed the drying of joint compound and primer; the radiant heat system is set to be turned on this week. That will allow us to take delivery of the flooring for the sanctuary and begin acclimatizing it before it is installed. Kitchen cabinets are scheduled for delivery later this month. We remain hopeful that we will be able to get a partial certificate of occupancy in time for a Thanksgiving service. We should have a better sense of the timing by the beginning of November.

September 23, 2015
The building project is moving along nicely as summer turns to fall. The project team is optimistic about the schedule and very pleased with the quality of the work. We hope you will stop by after the service this Sunday, September 27, or next Sunday, October 4 between 11:30 am and 1 pm for a tour.
Framing and insulation are done in the sanctuary (the large hall). Carpenters have installed new plywood subfloors in the old farmhouse and have framed the room partitions. Carpenters are working on the stairs.
The roof of the farmhouse has been stripped off and the beams reinforced. The roof of the sanctuary is shingled and work is about to start on the ell roof. Electrical rough-in can be completed now that the building is watertight. Drywall will be delivered this week for the sanctuary, with the installers arriving the same day.
The site work contractor backfilled the drainage systems installed around the perimeter of the building, and graded out the event lawn to the rear of the sanctuary. The driveway and front lawns will be next. Footings and walls for the new farmhouse porch are being poured this week.
We are on budget and on track to open up the new and renovated buildings sometime hopefully in late November. We expect that work to complete the project will continue on into December but that occupancy for a Thanksgiving service will be possible by the end of November.

July 15, 2015

Please go to our Facebook page for further updates, with photos!

June 3, 2015

Demolition began this week inside the Meetinghouse, in preparation for the removal of the ell. Now that the project is under way, please do not visit the work site. When conditions at the work site allow, we will figure out a way to have tours of the site at announced times later in the summer. For the next month or two, however, for safety and liability reasons, casual visitors to the site cannot be accommodated at any hour, even on weekends. Thank you for your understanding and patience as we work toward our bigger home! We are taking pictures as the work proceeds and will be sharing them shortly.

May 27, 2015

We on the Steering Committee have been overwhelmed by the trust that has been placed in us by this congregation to make decisions on your behalf for this building process. That this trust has been so amazingly exemplified by two unanimous votes to continue is beyond humbling.

This last tentative decision to potentially demolish the entire existing old Meeting House was one that came to us very late in the process, and despite the practical reasons to pursue that choice, we felt an unease that compelled us to ask for your opinions before moving ahead. Thank goodness we did!

We received innumerable thoughtful email and verbal responses since last Wednesday, and these were definitely not unanimous. Some additional issues and perspectives were brought to our attention that we really needed to hear.

From the beginning, this project has been defined as having two distinct parts – the building of a new large, multipurpose meeting room, with an ell attached for support functions and the renovation of the old Meeting House. Each time you voted (unanimously) to continue, those were the broad plans that we presented for discussion, and ultimately for your voted approval. Most significantly, when your pledges were collected during the Capital Campaign, we were describing the project as having these two parts.

From your feedback last week, we were reminded that your unanimous support thus far, and all of your financial pledges, were based on schematics and plans that did not include the degree of renovations for the old Meeting House that are now being considered, and certainly did not include demolition of our main “farmhouse” building. For some, this change in direction is extremely upsetting, in part because they so value our historic structure that has been part of the history and landscape of Norwich and historic Route 5 for about 175 years. (In fact, much of the enthusiasm from the Norwich Planning Board was based on the fact that we would be preserving this historic building.)

After reading through all your thoughtful emails, and weighing your comments in many conversations with you, we have concluded that this decision to renovate vs. to demolish our farmhouse cannot be based on purely practical factors– almost everybody agrees demolition is the simpler choice. We are concerned that this is also an ethical issue. People in good faith pledged their money and support for a project they feel is quite different from what we described at the eleventh hour last week. Many of you are quite comfortable with this shift, and some are actually excited about the potential change. However, everyone pledged financial support, (all of which is needed for this project to succeed) based on the consistently described two part project – build the new meeting hall and attached ell, and renovate our old farmhouse. We therefore feel we cannot, in good faith, break away from that tacit agreement with those of you who do not support this change.

We are comfortable that the details for renovation already worked out with the architect and contractor are most comprehensive and will provide us with a much more energy efficient structure, while maintaining its historic integrity.

You have from the beginning trusted the three of us to use our best judgment to make difficult decisions on your behalf. Please understand that this is the toughest dilemma we’ve faced. We have struggled with our decision, but truly believe in our hearts that this is the right path.

The Steering Committee: Bill Brawley, Joani Nierenberg, BJ ShabelThe Board: Cappy Nunlist, President

May 20, 2015

The building project took an interesting turn this week when the committee and the professional team, reviewing final bids from subcontractors, realized that the cost of renovating and expanding the existing farmhouse would be basically the same price as tearing the whole thing down and rebuilding it from scratch.

This fact was not the case when we initially started the planning process for this project, when renovations were to be much more modest.

Currently, the renovation plan calls for tearing off the back wall and selectively (by hand) demolishing large parts of the existing farmhouse; replacing its windows, stairs and roof, and stripping off the lead-impregnated clapboard. The building would be taken down to the studs and everything replaced, including wiring and plumbing.

When the topic turned to reinforcing and making watertight the fieldstone foundation, the price for a new foundation turned out to be substantially less than the plan to install drains around the foundation and pour new cement on one side of all four walls. After lengthy discussion about jacking up the old building, other options for the foundation, and the additional contingencies we have to carry to cover any surprises we might find when we open the walls of the original farmhouse, we realized that it would be easier and faster to simply rebuild the existing structure from the foundation up.

— The net cost of building new will be lower than renovating. An increase of one percent of the construction budget will be more than balanced out by a five precent reduction in the contingency budget we are required to carry, as well as a faster project schedule.

— The farmhouse would be rebuilt on the same footprint and in the same style as the existing circa 1920 Greek Revival farmhouse. However, we can build a new structure to a higher level of energy efficiency, matching the performance of the assembly hall and the connecting ell, and fixing the moisture issues in the basement.

— Razing the structure with an excavator cancels out the need to painstakingly demolish by hand; and the various subcontractors that need to be in the walls can do so without working around any quirks they might encounter in the current structure. Building a new structure also makes it possible to reconsider the design of the staircase —  our options were limited by the location of load bearing walls. Otherwise, the planned interior layout for the renovated building wouldn’t change.

The current building certainly has character, and we will (hope to) preserve that by rebuilding in the same style, retaining the four columns in front (the deck and its granite footings were going to be replaced anyway).

However, we realize this is a big change in the project. Although the total cost with the change will meet the parameters of your vote on March 31st to allow a mortgage of less than $250,000, we do not want to take such a large step without checking back with you.  If we are to begin on our start date of June 1st, we do not have time to call a special meeting.

The Steering Committee and Board are prepared to make the decision to approve this plan, but are uncomfortable doing so without a conversation with the Congregation. The final decision needs to be made within the next couple of days so that our professionals can make the necessary design changes and lock in the subcontractors.  So . . . we are asking you to reply to this email or phone one of us ASAP with any questions or comments you might have.  Steering Committee members will also be present after the service on Sunday to answer any questions you might have – but we need your input now!

Bill Brawley:
BJ Shabel:
Joan Nierenberg:
Cappy Nunlist:


May 6, 2015

Work on the new Meetinghouse project is in a temporary lull as we wait for subcontractorsto return bids to the general contractor. We are also waiting for a bunch of permits to make their way through various bureaucracies.

Construction documents were finalized last week, keeping us on schedule for a May 31 groundbreaking. Those documents are now being distributed to a long list of subcontractors who specialize in particular trades — excavators to painters, concrete to electrical to framing and more. Their bids are due to our builder, Estes and Gallup, by May 15; we review the bids and begin working toward a guaranteed maximum price for the project on May 19.
We are awaiting word on five permit applications. Our request to tie into Hartford’s water and sewer systems is on track for a vote by that town’s selectboard. Three state agencies are reviewing the project: the Department of Safety, for building and fire code compliance; the Department of Transportation, for traffic plans; and the Agency of Natural Resources, for wastewater issues. When all those are in place, hopefully by June 1, we can then apply for our building permit from the Town of Norwich.
Our thanks this week to Kathy Christie, Mardy High, Claudia Kern, and Suzanne Simon, who successfully applied to the Byrne Foundation for a grant that will help us with handicapped accessibility issues; and to Lori Fortini, Mary Layton, and all of the Sunday volunteers who began moving stuff out of the farmhouse to the storage trailer.
— The Steering Committee: Joan Nierenberg, BJ Shabel, and Bill Brawley

April 22, 2015

We’re still on track to break ground on the New Meetinghouse project on May 31.

This week, the Steering Committee will be reviewing a final set of drawings, to make sure all details are in order. On Tuesday, we’ll hand those plans to architect Andrew Garthwaite, who will adjust his computer models and generate the final set of construction documents. Those documents then go to our builder, Nick Estes, for a comprehensive round of bidding. We expect to get the bids and an updated price tag for the project two weeks later.
It’s going to be close, but we think we’ll meet our deadlines. One factor beyond our control is the speed at which municipal and state officials work. A copy of the construction documents will go to the state building inspector’s office in Springfield for a final review; that could take up to four weeks to complete. The state Agency of Transportation is reviewing a permit application. And we’re hopeful that the Town of Hartford will OK our request to tie into thee water and sewer lines at Palmer Court. Once all these permits are OK’s, we will apply for our building permit from the Town of Norwich. Then we can officially break ground. Phew!
In preparation for the project, we excavated a series of test pits around the property so that the engineers could see what kind of soil types we’d be dealing with around footings and foundations. The soils are mostly silt and clay beneath three or four feet of topsoil. There were no surprises that would require changes to the project design.
Don’t be surprised if you find the door to the basement nailed shut. We need to remove an old oil tank in the basement, and we need to partially demolish the basement stairs in order to get the job done. We haven’t scheduled the work yet, but it will likely happen during the next two weeks.
Thank you, Lori Fortini, who is leading the effort to clear the farmhouse of furniture and file cabinets, among other things, so that we can be ready to turn the site over to the builders on June 1. Please check out the sign-up sheets in the meetinghouse and help us out, if you are able.
–The Steering Committee: Joan Nierenberg, BJ Shabel, Bill Brawley


April 8, 2015

The race is on. The congregation voted unanimously to proceed with the building project at a special meeting on March 28, launching the Steering Committee into the most intense part of the project to date.
Hundreds of details, from placement of electrical sockets to kitchen cabinets, assisted hearing systems to wireless access points, windows, door hardware and more, are being examined in detail and confirmed as the Steering Committee works through the finalizing of construction documents to meet a deadline of April 24.
Construction documents will define precisely what we expect from our builder, Estes and Gallup of Lyme, and the various subcontractors who will be bidding on portions of the job. Estes will be seeking a minimum of three bidders for each of the trades (e.g., excavators, electricians, plumbers) in order to put together its guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the project.
But for now, the burden is on us to nail down as many details as we possibly can, so that we are not presented with any expensive surprises during the estimated 5 to 6 months of construction, which we are still planning to begin on May 31. Among the highlights this week were an outstanding presentation from Claudia Kern and Suzanne Simon on kitchen design, a review of replacement window options for the farmhouse, and some preliminary discussion of doors and door hardware. Joani and our project manager, Shawn Donovan, drove to Brattleboro to track down an outstanding deal on wood flooring.
You can expect to see the first visible evidence of the project in the next few weeks as various pre-construction activities take place. We will be testing the farmhouse for hazardous materials so that we can properly dispose of demolition material. A storage trailer will be delivered to the site soon, to accommodate furniture and salvaged material from the farmhouse. And an excavator will be digging test pits in the back yard so that the engineers can perform soil composition testing.
Joan Nierenberg, BJ Shabel, Bill Brawley


April 1, 2015

There was a called meeting on March 28, in which members of the congregation unanimously voted to fund the construction of the new Meetinghouse, including a 2 year bridge loan to cover the pledges yet to be received and a mortgage of no more than $250,000.  A more detailed update will follow soon.


March 11, 2015

Subcontractors interested in working on the UUCUV project met at the Meetinghouse this week with the architect and builder as part of the process of putting a price tag on the project. Also this week, the Steering Committee met with the acoustic engineer to review options for the new Meetinghouse assembly space.

Nick Estes, of Lyme based builders Estes and Gallup, invited estimators representing a range of building trades on a walkthrough of the project, which is expected to break ground this spring.

The estimators are preparing pricing opinions for their respective areas that Estes will then gather into an updated estimate that’s due next Tuesday.

Also this week, the Steering Committee met with acoustic engineer Eddie Duncan of RSG Inc. in White River Junction to learn more about the options for ensuring a good sound environment for the new Meetinghouse.

We learned a great deal: about echo and reverb, about how to quantify exactly what was so wrong about the Marion Cross School, about how we can tailor the acoustic properties of a room to better suit our needs.

Duncan and his team went to the MCS to analyze what many of us do not want to replicate in our new space: A room that too actively reverberates at the mid-range frequencies that are typical of a spoken presentation.

Duncan and his team modeled the MCS multi-purpose room, as well as our proposed new Meetinghouse, so that we could better imagine the sound environment in our new space.

To summarize:

— If we do nothing with regard to acoustics, the new space will be worse for spoken presentations than the MCS space, no matter whether we use carpet or wood flooring.

— Sound absorbing panels ought to be installed on the wall directly opposite the speaker, to minimize reflected sound. We would want to do this, no matter what flooring system we selected.

— If we install wood flooring, we would need to also install sound-absorbing material in the ceiling. This could be expensive, depending on the option we select and given the amount of space that would need to be covered.

— If we installed carpeting, we would probably not need to install special material in the ceiling. There is not a significant acoustic difference between a wood ceiling and a sheet-rocked one.

Materials used to optimize acoustics in public spaces span the gamut from inexpensive fabric (but possibly prone to getting dingy over time) to slatted, milled hardwoods that look terrific but are expensive.

We asked for more detail on the prices for various materials. Duncan and his team will model two options for us: Carpet with absorbent material on the walls, and engineered hardwood with full acoustic treatment of ceilings and walls.

March 4, 2015

It’s been a busy three months for the Steering Committee since the last newsletter, which came on the heels of the Dec.14 presentation of conceptual drawings for the new Meetinghouse project — and unanimous votes by the Congregation to proceed with the project and a capital campaign to fund it.We’re still working toward a May 31 groundbreaking, so our first task was to determine the process we wanted to follow for selecting a builder. With our tight deadlines and the likelihood that the best builders would soon be booked for spring, we opted to go with a process known as construction management, or CM.Institutional building projects are often drawn up in their entirety before builders are invited to bid; the owner waits for four weeks for the builder to study the design and ask for quotes from subcontractors; once a builder is selected, negotiations on pricing and terms can take another three weeks, and then there is a further delay before any dirt is turned on the job site. We don’t have that kind of time to spare in our schedule. We also wanted to get feedback on pricing while the design process was still under way, so that we wouldn’t be surprised when the bids were opened.In the CM system, we select a builder to work with during the design process, so we can get feedback on pricing while we are still in the design process. We are expecting our first round of pricing feedback in mid March. The feedback will be based on estimates from one or two companies in each of the “sub trades” — electrical, concrete, excavation, basically all of the tasks that the builder can’t do themselves, with their own team of carpenters.We’ve also asked for bids for certain alternatives that members and friends have expressed interest in, such as a hardwood floor in the new Meetinghouse, or expanded spaces for the religious education program. That gives us insight into what we need to do to get the building plans to conform with our financial reality — which is quite nice, thanks to your generosity (see related article). In addition, we expect that the builder will have some suggestions in this phase about ways that we can save money.The revised drawings will then yield to a set of construction documents, upon which our builder will offer a Guaranteed Maximum Price, or GMP. The GMP will be based on a minimum of three bids for each of the sub trades. We get to see who and how much was bid for each item, and we can veto specific subcontractors.With this framework in mind, we interviewed four highly regarded builders from the Upper Valley region to come and meet us to discuss the project and our requirements. After much consideration, we chose Estes and Gallup of Lyme as our general contractor. Estes’ experience with a wide range of commercial and residential projects, and their fee proposal, helped them stand out in an extremely competitive situation.Once that decision was made, we went full speed ahead on design development with our architect, Andrew Garthwaite of Haynes & Garthwaite Architects. In this phase, conceptual sketches are transferred into a computer aided design system, with many of the details, such as room dimensions and positioning, double-checked with the client (that’s us). We presented progress drawings at the celebration dinner at the end of February and received more great feedback from members and friends. A few days later, we took revised set of drawings to Nick Estes for a pricing opinion that is due March 17.
We have also been busy on other fronts. On March 19, we are scheduled to present our site plan, including landscaping details, parking lot configuration, and building footprints, to the Norwich Development Review Board. Members and friends who are Norwich residents are especially welcome to attend. We have a small group working on an application for a construction loan that will help us pay for the project while we wait for pledges promised in 2016 and 2017.We also expect to have teams working on various tasks, such as outfitting a kitchen, and working with engineers on acoustic issues in the assembly space. On March 28, we will present the current set of plans, both building and financial, to the Congregation for another set of votes. Within two weeks of that meeting, assuming a vote to proceed, we should have construction documents, with a GMP no later than mid-April. And then, we can break ground on a project we’ve been dreaming about for decades. We’re grateful for the hard work and support of our liaisons, Cappy Nunlist and Rev. Patience, who let nothing fall through the cracks.— Bill Brawley, Joan Nierenberg, and BJ Shabel

March 4, 2015

Discussion this week of the new meetinghouse project turned to details raised at last week’s celebratory dinner as architect Andrew Garthwaite handed revised designs to builder Nick Estes for preliminary pricing.

Estes, of Estes and Gallup of Lyme, will present his estimates of the project cost to the Steering Committee in two weeks. The estimates will then inform the later stages of the design development process, which will focus on balancing program needs against budget realities.
The estimate will also feature prominently in the Congregational discussion and vote to proceed with the project on Saturday, March 28, at the Lebanon United Methodist Church.
Among the items discussed at the weekly project meeting Tuesday were many of the items raised by members and friends at Friday’s dinner gathering. The conversation ranged from getting pricing on alternative flooring materials (e.g., hardwood, engineered wood, cork and marmoleum, as well as carpet) to kitchen design  issues (such as counter heights and knee space at the sink) required for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Among the decisions made at this week’s meeting:
— We added an emergency exit to the southwest corner.

— We discussed in greater depth ADA and accessibility issues regarding access from the parking lot, bathrooms and interior spaces.

— We extensively discussed the heating system, which will likely require an air exchanger (not large or heavy) in the rafter space above the rebuilt ell, suspended in such a way as to minimize vibration, and a small condenser located outside.

— Conveyed the opinions regarding preference for exterior stain over paint (stain had already been specified in the pricing set).

— Discussed pros and cons of metal versus standing seam roofs.

We are contacting local firms (from a list provided by Energy Vermont) to perform a thermal scan of the existing farmhouse. The scan will help us determine the extent of renovations that may be needed. Using a special infrared scanner, hopefully while the weather is still cold, we will know where heat is escaping the building and what we need to prioritize in order to improve it.


February 3, 2015

Adapted from comments presented at an informal meeting and pot luck lunch on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015

While we on the building side of the meetinghouse project don’t yet have a lot to show you in the way of new drawings and sketches. I can assure you that we have been busy!

Much of our work as a Steering Committee has been focused on interviewing builders and reading contracts, and planning out what needs to be done between now and May 31, when we expect to break ground.

In January, the committee interviewed four builders with excellent reputations for doing quality work, on time and within budget. To meet our aggressive schedule, all were willing to engage with us closely in a pre-construction advisory capacity, so that we could have constant dialogue regarding costs during the design process

In the end, the committee had a very hard choice to make. We unanimously selected Estes & Gallup of Lyme as our pre-construction advisor, with a commitment to use them to manage construction — should the congregation vote to approve such as project.

Our project architect, Andrew Garthwaite, of Norwich based Haynes and Garthwaite, is about to start on what is called design development (DD). During the next month, the hand drawn sketches that were done during the conceptual phase will be polished and drawn with far more precision, and with input from staff on the everyday usability of the spaces that we will be living in. They will then be entered into a computer-aided design system that will facilitate the subsequent steps of the process.

Once the design development process is complete, by early March, our builder, Nick Estes, will price that set of drawings. At this stage, we won’t be requiring multiple bids for each sub trade — for the sake of speed, we will be going with numbers supplied by trusted tradesmen for work that Estes can’t self perform. Estes has carpenters and foremen; bids will come from specialists in site work, concrete, electrical, HVAC, etc.

When we get that number back, in mid-March, we’ll also have solid numbers from the Capital Campaign and Finance subcommittees, and we’ll know what we will need to adjust in the construction documents — the final stage of the design process — to tailor the building program to our ability to pay for it.

We are currently planning to present the building plan and financial package to the Congregation for a vote at the end of March, and if/when we get the nod, preparation of construction documents and building permit applications would follow by mid-April; that’s when we get the final guaranteed maximum price (GMP), which we expect will be based on a process featuring bids from multiple subcontractors in each of the trades. Final pricing would arrive in mid May, and if everything is in order, we can break ground by the end of May.

The other area of activity surrounds permitting. The two main permits are Norwich DRB and Hartford select board.

We expect to be on the agenda for the Norwich Development Review Board on March 19. We’re not expecting any problems; we’ve met with the local planning officer three times to smoke out any possible hitches, so we’re hopeful that things will go well. Members who are also Norwich residents are especially welcome to attend and show support. Andrew will be making the presentation with support from our civil engineering firm, DeWolfe Associates of Montpelier.

We will also be on the agenda for an upcoming Hartford Selectboard meeting, so that we can get permission to tie into that town’s water and sewer system. These utilities are located right along Palmer Court, and should be relatively easy to access. However, Palmer Court is just over the town line, and the process requires an inter-municipal agreement.

The Steering Committee is also spinning off subcommittees as specific tasks arise. Colin High will be working on the solar energy question as we work toward a net zero building, Leah Goat is providing feedback on landscaping, and a Finance group (Carl Tracy, Dave Nierenberg and Bill, with support from Lucy) will be working on figuring out how to close the gap between funds raised and funds needed to build the full program.

Bill Brawley, for the Steering Committee: Joan Nierenberg, BJ Shabel, and Cappy Nunlist

January 21, 2015

The Capital Campaign is under way! Many members and friends who attended Sunday services picked up their packets containing their pledge form and information about the new Meetinghouse project; the rest of the pledge form packets are in the mail this week. Our hearts can build a home!

A new section of the UUCUV web site contains a collection of pages about the new Meetinghouse, including a 3-D walk around of the exterior. Check it out:

Main page:

3-D model:

For more info, please contact:

Capital Campaign Committee: Kathy Christie, Mardy High, Claudia Kern, Suzanne Simon

Steering Committee: Joan Nierenberg, BJ Shabel, Bill Brawley

December 16, 2014

On Sunday, December 14, at a called, special meeting at the Howe Library in Hanover, the membership of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley voted unanimously to move forward with plans to build a new Meetinghouse on our property in Norwich.  We are thrilled to embark on this long-awaited journey!

At Sundays meeting, architect Andrew Garthwaite of Haynes & Garthwaite Inc. of Norwich, showed new drawings and presented new details about the proposed building and renovation project, including rough cost estimates provided to the Steering Committee by Domus, Inc., of Hanover.

Kathy Christie, Capital Campaign Chair, shared an encouraging report from Christine Graham of Burlington, Vermont, whose independent feasibility study found readiness and excitement for the project, and indications of sufficient financial support to warrant embarking on a capital fund raising drive.

The Steering Committee summarized what it has learned about cost estimates, as well as next steps in the construction process. In addition, the meeting also heard a brief summary of costs incurred to date, and the status of our Capital and Growth and Development funds.

In January, the Capital Campaign Committee will send a letter to current members and friends of the congregation with details and options about this fund raising. Please be on the look-out for this important mailing. As we learned from the study, this campaign will ask each one of us to be as generous as we can be. Anyone not online will soon receive updated materials in the mail.

Some have expressed their wish to begin giving before December 31, 2014, to capture 2014 income tax deductions. Such a tax-wise strategy could be a way to stretch a pledge over four years, beginning this year. If you see this as a possibility, please contact Lucy Taylor.

All questions are welcomed by the Board, the Steering Committee, and the Capital Campaign Committee. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for this project!


November 26, 2014

Cost estimates for the new Meetinghouse are still rough, but good enough to give the UUCUV an early look at what it will take to build a new multi-purpose gathering space.

Bruce Williamson of Domus Inc. on Nov. 18 presented a first look at numbers based on conceptual sketches prepared by Andrew Garthwaite of Norwich—based Haynes & Garthwaite Architects. Because the plans are still mostly uncertain, the numbers are apt to be high. The costs are based on the so-called Option 2a, which would raze the ell portion of the existing Meetinghouse and replace it with a kitchen, bathrooms and related support space connecting a new Meetinghouse (worship and multi-purpose space) to the existing Meetinghouse (currently home to the library, worship space and offices). Option 2a postpones much-needed repairs to the existing Meetinghouse to a later date, in order to reduce the overall price tag.

Williamson said he showed the plans to subcontractors specializing in mechanical systems, site work, painting, cabinetry and insulation, among others, and then added their best estimate of work they (Domus) would do themselves. They broke the estimate down into 30 categories, covering everything from cement for the slab to acoustic panels.

The preliminary price tag, including contingency fees, and overhead costs, is in the $750,000 to $850,000 range for a completely finished package that would be ready for occupancy six to nine months after breaking ground. The concept known as Option 2, which includes comprehensive repairs and renovations to the current Meetinghouse, would add at least another $150,000 to that price tag.

The numbers, while sobering and most likely on the high side, are consistent with similar commercial projects in the Upper Valley, notably the project to renovate and add on to the West Hartford library, which cost an estimated $750,000.

Christine Graham, an independent financial feasibility consultant, has completed her interviews of a short list of members and friends. She expects to have a preliminary report for the Steering Committee during the first week of December.

Our assumptions for the Dec. 14 meeting are that we will be encouraged by Christine’s report and that the Congregation will vote to continue planning for a groundbreaking in spring or summer 2015, with another vote to authorize the project in March or April.

The Congregation could, of course, choose at the December meeting to halt the project, in which case we could walk away from the project with no further obligations apart from the roughly $30,000 in fees incurred to date. However, if the Congregation chooses to move forward, we want to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as the holidays are behind us.

That means throwing ourselves into a Capital Campaign and doing the financial spadework needed to fund the project.  Typically capital campaigns encourage 3-5 year pledges so people can stretch more, and that often means a construction loan to get started on the project. Sometimes it is necessary to close the gap after pledges with a mortgage or personal loan, but we will not be able to make decisions about this until we are farther along in this process.

On the construction side of the project, we would be moving right into final design development, and eventually the preparation of construction documents, as well as working with town and state agencies on the necessary permits. The Steering Committee has asked Shawn and Andrew to provide estimates for their services in the next phase, which would carry us through to Spring 2015. We’ll cover the details of this process in our next article, in conjunction with our construction consultant, Shawn Donovan, focusing on the different contractual methods of developing a project. We will also take a closer look at the actual construction timeline from groundbreaking to occupancy.

Please mark Dec. 14 on your calendars, as your participation in deciding our next steps is critically important for the future of our wonderful congregation!


November 25, 2014

–from Bill Brawley’s article for the upcoming Winter newsletter

Architect Andrew Garthwaite presented three concepts for a new Meetinghouse at the Congregational meeting on Oct. 12. Following that meeting, the Steering Committee met with Andrew to review the congregational input. Based on that discussion, Andrew, of Norwich-based Haynes & Garthwaite Architects, has been refining the conceptual drawings and working closely with estimators at Domus Inc. to develop a detailed cost model for one of the three plans.

The detailed cost estimate, and a summary of an ongoing independent feasibility study, will be presented to the Congregation at a meeting on Dec. 14. The Congregation will then discuss the results and vote on the next steps in the process of building a new Meetinghouse and support spaces, as well as renovations to the current Meetinghouse.

The Steering Committee reconvened the week of Nov. 16 with Andrew and Bruce Williamson of Domus to review the cost estimates and refinements to the conceptual design sketches, and begin planning the Dec. 14 presentations. We have also begun planning the next steps in the pre-construction process, assuming the Congregation decides to proceed. This will allow us to hit the ground running after the holidays and keep us on the optimistic track for a groundbreaking in 2015.

October 29, 2014 Update: Feasibility Study

We have been preparing for the feasibility study described at the October 12 meeting. Christine Graham, the UUCUV’s fund raising consultant, will interview a sampling of the congregation’s membership to help us determine our capacity to pay for a new Meeting House and renovate the old Meeting House, a project that could cost more than $800,000.

Fifteen member households will receive invitations this week to meet with Christine. The interviews are not solicitations. In fact, all thoughts shared with Christine will be held in strictest confidence by her. No information she shares with the Steering Committee will be attributed to any specific person or household. Rather, taken as a whole, the feasibility information will be combined with other data we have, all of which will be crucial in determining the project’s next steps.

The steering committee and Kathy Christie, who is leading the fund raising efforts for the UUCUV, will be mailing the packets that include the invitation, a statement explaining the need for the project, a financial statement on the project, and preliminary floor plans and elevations. Kathy will follow up on the invitations with phone calls to schedule interviews during November. We ask that if you are contacted for an interview, you would seriously consider finding the time to participate.

On the construction side, the process of creating detailed cost estimates for the project officially started last week. Architect Andrew Garthwaite, Hanover builder Bruce Williamson of Domus, and UUCUV project consultant Shawn Donovan met at the Meeting House to discuss the project.

While Garthwaite is busy refining his preliminary sketches into a conceptual design, Domus will be costing out the details, so that we can have a very detailed picture of the project and where we might find ways to trim costs.

The detailed cost estimate and the results of the financial feasibility study will be presented as part of the Steering Committee’s report to the Congregation meeting on Dec. 14, at which time a vote will be taken to determine if/how we should proceed.

October 2014 Report of the New Building Steering Committee

Adapted from remarks delivered at the Oct. 12 informal meeting of the UUCUV

Quite a bit has been happening on the building project since the Annual Meeting on May 31, primarily on the construction side but also on the financial side.

One of the first things we did as a Steering Committee was hire Shawn Donovan as our construction process consultant. A former UUCUV president and engineer who has 30 years of experience in commercial construction, Shawn’s advice has been absolutely invaluable in getting us to the point that we’ve now reached with this project.

Of particular help has been his insight into the systems and processes by which buildings are delivered, allowing us to structure a process that allows us to minimize our commitments if we come up short on fundraising —  while also allowing us to move on the most rapid pre-construction process possible, with an optimistic goal of breaking ground on a sanctuary project by Spring of next year.

Shawn also got the ball rolling on a boundary survey of the property —  a necessary prerequisite for site design and permitting conversations with state and local agencies, which are also under way. In particular, we are pleased to have a letter from the state saying we will not need an Act 250 review for the plans. We’re in the process of getting reciprocal parking agreements with our neighbors, so that we can minimize on-site parking requirements, and we have also started the process of getting the needed agreements for tying into Hartford’s sewer and water system.

The steering committee had a pretty busy summer, working around preexisting travel commitments. But we were able to manage two days of interviews of architects and designers, an immersive learning experience that resulted in the election of Garthwaite & Haynes Architects of Norwich as our building designers. We were particularly impressed by their ability to listen to our needs and respond with insight and sensitivity to our aspirations.

Part of the package we get with the architects is an evaluation of the existing structure that we have at the property we own on Rt 5. We needed to settle the long burning question of what — if anything — was worth keeping of the meeting house. The short answer from the draft report is, to demolish the ell (the section that contains the kitchen, reception area and minister’s office) but repair the central structure that contains the meeting room and the second story offices.

This determination was needed so that Andrew Garthwaite could know what he was working with. We’ve given him the wish lists developed by past committees as to what people would like to see in a new structure, and program requirements — essentially, a list of the spaces this congregation needs to have if it is to be able to house everything that we do —  from offices to meeting spaces, kitchens to closets.

Andrew presented four plans at the meeting on Oct.12 at the Marion Cross School. The first plan was to fix the existing Meeting House, including the ell, to bring it closer to code compliance and make it usable for the next 25 years. It would not add any new spaces, and comes with a price tag of roughly $250,000.

Option 2 would demolish the ell and replace it with two new structures: one that would function as a sanctuary/multi-use room with capacity for up to 100 people in movable seating, another structure (replacing the ell) that would function as support/service space (new kitchen, restrooms, janitor closet, etc.) and a renovated Meeting House with offices and religious education spaces, as well as a nursery and minister’s office. Price: roughly $650,000.

Option 3 is nearly identical to Option 2, except with a sanctuary space with capacity to seat up to 130 people. Pricc: roughly $800,000.

Option 4 (known as Option 2a to the committee) is a phased version of Option 2 that gets us the meeting space for 100 people plus the support/service space, but minimizes the repairs to the existing Meeting House, instead delaying all but essential renovations to a future date. This option is priced at roughly $460,000. The committee will be focusing on firming up Options 2 and 2a in the next few weeks.

These prices are very rough, back of the envelope calculations based on square footage. They are based on an assumption that the space is delivered in fully finished condition, and they do not include site work and utility connections, design fees, or other “soft costs” such as kitchen appliances or furniture. These numbers also do not include the cost of such desirable “extras” as a timber framed, post and beam style of building for the sanctuary or solar panels on the south-facing roof. These costs could add as much as another $150,000 or more to the finished cost.

That’s the main reason why we will pass the conceptual drawings to Domus Inc., a local builder of great reputation who can work up a detailed cost estimate. It is hoped that we can reduce costs even further through a process of “value engineering.”

We’ve had this dream of building a new home for years, and clearly this is the farthest we’ve ever come towards making the dream come true. But we still find ourselves with the question that has always stalled us in the past – what is our financial capacity in moving forward? We now know, after the professional evaluation of our building, that doing nothing really is not an option. But how much can we afford to do?

We have optimists who believe, especially given our history in purchasing this property, that our capacity is great. We have doubters who are most concerned that we are going to move forward with a project that will leave us with debt we cannot afford. Before we come to the next decision point, we need data that is less speculative.

The Steering Committee and the Board are convinced that the most important next step is for a professional financial Feasibility Study, to get the most honest and objective data possible. In a traditional feasibility study, a consultant interviews individuals, assesses confidential information gathered, and makes recommendations on the goal, timing and design of the campaign.

Steps include:

  • Identify interviewees
  • Meet privately with interviewees
  • Assemble the information gathered
  • Combine interview findings with data gathered in an internal audit, looking at our financial history
  • Analyze all data
  • Make recommendations on goal, preparation, timetable, prospects, volunteers and activities

The conversations the consultant will have will include far more than simply asking how much money you would be willing to give to a Capital Campaign.

The Feasibility Study will test:

  • Level of confidence in our leadership
  • Value placed on the organization’s work
  • Concerns, hesitations, and questions surrounding the church
  • The strength of the volunteer leadership
  • Effectiveness of community outreach
  • Opinions about the proposed campaign and goals
  • Viability of the campaign in its preliminary design
  • Likelihood of financial support from the congregation
  • Size of potential gifts from key prospects
  • Recommendations for improving the campaign plan

We could do this study internally, but we are convinced that we would not get anywhere near the same level of honesty and objectivity, which would leave us right back where we’ve been in the past – having to base our decisions on slightly better than speculation.

At our Annual Meeting, the vote was passed unanimously for the Steering Committee to move ahead with all the preliminary steps necessary to take us through the presentation of architectural plans to be voted on by the congregation. (This will happen in early December.) This included among other things, wetland delineations, professional survey of our property, hiring an architect and consultant, and a feasibility study. A motion was made to purposely not place a cap on cost for these preliminary steps, but that the Steering Committee should keep you apprised as to costs as we moved forward.

We met and spoke to various consultants, and along with Kathy Christie, who has agreed to head up all aspects of a capital campaign, we have chosen Christine Graham, a professional consultant, to run our Feasibility Study. The cost will be somewhere close to $10,000, which is less than half of what others were charging. I have to say we were all quite sensitive about the cost, but were totally impressed by the professionalism and sensitivity of Christine, and her willingness to listen and be flexible. And again, we are convinced that in order to get data that is truly meaningful, we can not do this ourselves.

Christine has told us that she would be able to do the interviews in November, and would be able to provide us her data and assessments in early December in time for us to evaluate our situation, and hopefully to vote to move forward.

This phase of planning that we are currently engaged in is expected to conclude in early December, at which point there will be a congregational decision making point. With the conceptual drawings done and the results of the feasibility study in hand, we will need to decide as a congregation whether to continue to the next step, which would be to undertake a capital campaign and to proceed to final construction drawings. We will also need a great deal of help from individuals as we do the campaign, as well as reviewing the construction documents for everything from gardens and landscaping to energy efficiency and interior color selection (to name just a few).

If the Capital Campaign is successful and final designs and permits go as expected, there would be another decision point for the congregation in the spring, when we will be asked to vote to approve a financing plan for the construction project, as well as the OK to enter a contract with a construction firm.

With the hard work of the entire congregation, we might be able to break ground during the 2015 construction season and realize our decades-long dream of building a home for our diverse “caravan” of “wanderers, worshippers, lovers of learning.”

The Steering Committee: Joan Nierenberg, BJ Shabel and Bill Brawley

September 24, 2014

Consulting Engineer: Meeting House Needs Work

The Steering Committee on Tuesday received a draft version of the structural engineer’s report on the integrity of the existing Meeting House. In summary, it says that the main portion of the farmhouse  (which houses our gathering space, as well as small offices upstairs) needs work — especially in the roof, basement and floor joists. However, it may be more economical to tear down the ell section of the house than to repair it.

The analysis, by Chris Temple of Montpelier-based DeWolfe Engineering Associates, helps in settling questions about the cost effectiveness of renovating part or all of the Meeting House and the extent to which it can be incorporated into the design of a new sanctuary/multi purpose meeting space. Preliminary plans for that building project will be the subject of a congregational meeting on Sunday, Oct. 12. at 12:30 pm at the Marion Cross School. Please plan to attend! We need your feedback!
Temple studied the Meeting House on Aug. 25, examining everything from basements and crawl spaces to the framing behind sheetrock and the beams in ceilings and roofs. We hired a carpenter to prepare access cutaways in roofs and walls ahead of the visit, to smooth the inspection process. We expect to have copies of the final report available soon, available at minimum through the web site; we’re waiting for photographs to be added, in order to illustrate the problems that were identified. These include:
— Basement: “Roughly half of the foundation walls show signs of failure, indicated by the noticeable inward rotation of the walls viewed from in the basement.”  The crawl space under the ell lacks adequate frost protection, making it unstable, and has been faced with a tapered concrete wall on the exterior on which water ponds. This has resulted in sill damage.The ideal solution would be to install a cast-in-place concrete footing and wall under the main structure, and to replace the foundation of the ell portion with a cast-in-place frost wall. The basement will also need a vapor barrier, to prevent moisture and soil gases from being drawn into a newly renovated, weather-tight building.
— Roofs: “The roof framing of both the main and ell structure are overstressed with code recommended snow loads.The over stresses present in the ell roof framing are much higher as compared to the main structure. This result is confirmed by the visible deflection of the roof and outward bowing of the exterior walls. The majority of the second floor framing of the main structure has sufficient capacity to support the code recommended live loads.” Temple recommends reinforcing the roof framing of both the ell and the main structures, as well as reinforcing the first-floor joists (and replacing the foundation) in the ell.
There is no insulation in the ceiling above the second floor offices, nor is there any in the ell roof. As a result, the heat that rises through these spaces is melting snow that accumulates on the roof. If we were to insulate those spaces, we would need to reinforce the load bearing timbers so they could handle the extra weight from the additional load of snow. Even as is, the walls are bowing out from under the roof because of the current snow loads.
The report also details improvements that could be made to reinforce floor joists in the main building, but concludes, “Based upon the extensive repairs required, replacement of the ell structure may be warranted. It is likely that the cost of repair of the ell would be similar to or more than the replacement cost. Repair of the main building is possible and although significant work is recommended, it is likely that the cost of repair would be less than the replacement cost.”
The congregational meeting on Oct. 12 will feature discussion of preliminary plans drawn up by Andrew Garthwaite, Haynes & Garthwaite Architects of Norwich. There will be only one service that Sunday, at 11 am, with a light lunch to follow.
— Bill Brawley, BJ Shabel, and Joan Nierenberg

September 12, 2014

Andrew Garthwaite, the lead architect working on the sanctuary project, will be gathering ideas and input at a discussion session to be held at 12:30 pm on Oct. 12 at the Marion Cross School. The session is open to all; a light lunch will be provided after the Sunday service, which will be at the Marion Cross School from 11 AM to noon. There will be only one worship service on Oct. 12.

Garthwaite, of Norwich-based Haynes & Garthwaite Architects, is working on preliminary designs for a structure that will accommodate around 100 people for Sunday services and congregational events.  He will be presenting several approaches to the design for comment and feedback. We’re hoping to keep things moving on a schedule that will allow us to present conceptual sketches and cost estimates to the Congregation around Thanksgiving.

Briefly …

The state of Vermont has determined that we do not need an Act 250 permit, which considerably simplifies the permitting process for a building project on our property.

Shawn Donovan, our construction consultant, has started early discussions with officials in Norwich and Hartford regarding permits and procedures required by those towns. In the earliest stages, we will need to bring the conceptual drawings and a site plan to the Norwich Development Review Board; Norwich officials will write a letter that will be sent to Hartford stating that we do not have access to town water and sewer, allowing us to apply for connections to Hartford utilities

A structural engineer has inspected the Meeting House and will be providing his opinion on the soundness of the building as part of the conceptual design process.

July 27, 2014

The Steering Committee is pleased to announce that it has selected Haynes & Garthwaite Architects of Norwich to draw up conceptual plans for the sanctuary/renovation project.

The committee interviewed a total of six firms (four architects and two design/build firms with architects) to consult on this early phase of the project, With the invaluable assistance of our consultant, Shawn Donovan, and congregation President Cappy Nunlist, the committee met with each firm and then reviewed written “scope of work” statements.

We asked each firm to submit a proposed fee schedule that would include preliminary sketches and floor plans for a new sanctuary; a detailed estimate of what it would cost to build that structure; and details regarding engineers to consult on various aspects of the early designs. We also asked that a structural engineer be retained to evaluate the existing Meeting House structure and what improvements may need to be made to it.

As a group, we were impressed by how much talent there is in the Upper Valley for tackling the design challenge that we presented. In the end, H&G’s presentation skills, body of relevant work, and sensitivity to the process we will be going through to build congregational support, were among the factors that swung the decision in their favor. We’re hoping to begin work with H&G in August. We expect there will be one open “brainstorming” meeting with the architects and the congregation — stay tuned for more information.

The committee is starting to interview fundraising consultants who can help us to assess how much money our congregation might raise in a capital campaign. We’ll have more information about that in a future update.

July 3, 2014

The Steering Committee had a busy week, completing initial interviews with six architect/designers for the UUCUV building project.

We met initially as a group with Shawn Donovan, our construction consultant, and with Cappy to come up with a categorized set of questions, so that we could be sure the interviews were consistent in terms of content discussed. From that initial discussion, Shawn also created a scope of work statement that clearly explained what we were looking for: basically, a set of conceptual drawings and schematics with preliminary cost estimates that will be presented to the congregation in the fall. These will also be used as part of a capital campaign, should the congregation vote to continue to that next step.We are also seeking opinions from a structural engineer regarding code and other issues in the existing Meeting House.

Teams from the six firms presented to the committee (with Shawn and Cappy) Tuesday and Wednesday. All were very impressive. We are fortunate to have such a deep reservoir of design talent, with relevant experience in historic preservation, energy efficiency, and prior work with churches, here in the Upper Valley region. On the other hand, that makes our task of selecting a finalist difficult. We have asked each team to reply to our scope of work statement with information about fees and details regarding engineering teams in a week (July 10), so the committee can discuss and narrow the field shortly thereafter.

We are also beginning the hunt for a fund raising consultant who can advise on the direction and timing of a capital campaign. Our intent is to keep the entire project moving on a path that would allow us to break ground for a new structure in June 2015.

— Bill Brawley