Despite renovations and additions less than 20 years ago, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church was running out of space.
In 1999, the parish of 3,500-plus families in Severna Park, Maryland, added five classrooms for its school, a parish library, plus gathering and meeting space.
“That extra space was critically needed,” says Al Jones, director of parish operations, “but it only went part-way to solving the parish’s space need.”
To solve the problem, the church, which is part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, commissioned Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects in 2016 to design a new Parish Activities Center that could serve multiple purposes.
Architect Lauren Myatt, working with the church’s building committee, designed the parish center.
“They were looking for a really flexible space, not necessarily to hold Masses, but which could serve that function,” she says. “It really was about creating a space for fellowship, a place for people to gather after services, and to really be a place for the school to use.”
A consistent look
The church wanted a parish center that fit aesthetically on the campus.
“We wanted to make it look like it belonged there,” Jones says, “consistent with the architecture of the church,” which was built in 1964.
The new parish center and the church sit at opposite ends of the school, which is connected to each. But the 14,000-square-foot center, with its 30-foot-tall fellowship hall/gymnasium, would tower above the one-story school, and the task was to create a seamless appearance with the existing brick exteriors.
“There was a lot of consideration of proportion and scale of the addition,” Myatt says. She chose building materials, particularly for the center’s exterior walls and roof, that worked well with the established look of the campus.
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Construction covered parts of two school years and required coordination with the 453-student school and other groups’ activities on the church campus.
“If you try to schedule construction, you bump up against someone’s ministry or class,” Jones says. “This is a very busy place from 7 in the morning until 9:30 at night.”
All those considerations mandated the first order of business for Murphy & Dittenhafer.
“We do a lot of listening at the beginning of a project,” Myatt explains. “We come in with a very open mind to hear what the different parties feel, what the design components could be, both functional and aesthetic.”
Attention to detail
On a regular basis, Myatt met with the building committee and updated the school family and congregation about the project.
Kevin Stick, Murphy & Dittenhafer project manager, worked with Myatt to develop the floor plans and construction details for the three-story-high fellowship hall, whose structural framing was engineered off-site to save money.
Another key feature of the center is a “mechanical penthouse,” as Stick calls it, which houses all the mechanical equipment for the building above the first-floor offices and restrooms, saving valuable space on the lower level.
A recent addition to the church is a large, curved front that acts as an entryway and informal gathering space. When designing the center, Myatt wanted to complement that look.
The parish center’s front has floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow a lot of daylight to stream in. When people can peer inside, they’re drawn in, Myatt says.
A cross adorns the frosted portion of the windows to promote Catholic identity, which Myatt says was a critical component of the project.
A satisfying result
The parish center has given the church the flexible space it needed. The main 8,400-square-foot space can be divided with a movable wall to create two gyms, a gym and a meeting room, or two meeting areas.
Church renovations, remodeling and additions have been a significant part of Murphy & Dittenhafer’s work since its founding in 1985.
“It seems I’m always working on at least one church project at any given time,” Myatt says. “We have a real comfort level working on church projects.”
Myatt and Stick are currently working together on renovations at two historic churches in Baltimore – Roland Park Presbyterian and Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian in Bolton Hill.
The parish center at St. John the Evangelist, which opened in February, was dedicated in January with the Archbishop of Baltimore and parishioners in attendance.
“I think they were all impressed,” Jones says.
Jones has his own yardstick to measure how well the new center fits on the campus.
“When you call for someone to make a delivery or service call at the new building, they don’t notice it being different and keep coming to the church,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like new construction.”