Wehr Constructors Inc.

No longer do the church members at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., have to squeeze in to attend one of the three worship services offered on Sundays. Nor do they have to figure out how to make the Children’s Ministry on campus more accessible and kid-friendly. Instead, they now have a new $15 million, 49,000-square-foot worship center, which seats more than 2,000 worshippers, instead of seating 900 in the former building.

The architect for the project was Visioneering Studios, based in Irvine, Calif., which also has offices in Atlanta, Denver, Chicago and Charlotte. Construction of the new building began in 2009 and culminated with a grand opening on May 14, 2011.

The new worship center includes a sanctuary; a nursery area for pre-kindergarten children with cry rooms; a coffee shop/café area; a fireside room for meetings, discussions or bible studies; a “green room;” and a minister’s office. It also has practice rooms for musicians and an oversized immersion baptistery that can hold up to eight people. “You can baptize a whole family in there if you want to,” Wehr Constructors’ CEO Dale Berry remarks.

Concrete and Steel

The 35-foot-tall worship center is built on a former parking lot next to the existing Children’s Ministry and near the old worship center. It is steel construction on slab on grade with precast concrete walls and a roof covered with a single-ply membrane. “One of the unique features is that the risers in the new sanctuary are also made out of precast,” Berry says. “We have 150-foot, double-pitched girder joists that span the entire length from one end of the precast to the other.”

Acoustical wall panels and clouds made of fiberglass and fabric modulate the sound inside the sanctuary, the floor of which is stained concrete. The first 900 seats of the sanctuary will be movable so different functions can be held on its floor. The rest of the seats are permanently affixed to the precast risers that start about halfway back in the sanctuary.

No windows are in the sanctuary itself, but the glass storefront extends around the lobby. The exterior of the worship center has a series of metal facades that create an innovative Main Street theme and also use a stucco-type exterior insulation and finish system. The floor of the Main Street area is stamped and colored concrete so it resembles wood.

Children’s Ministry

Approximately 30,000 square feet of the church’s separate classroom building was renovated as part of the project at a cost of $4 million. The existing two-story gymnasium was converted to two stories of classroom space and the Main Street theme was incorporated into the decoration of the school’s exterior.

“The west side of the Children’s Ministry and the east side of the new worship center both have a Main Street theme,” Berry notes. “There is a cobblestone driveway in between, protected by a canopy that connects [them].”

That driveway was necessitated by a 60-inch-diameter water line running approximately 7 feet underground that serves the eastern sector of Louisville’s population. It prevented the new worship center from being an addition to the children’s area. “We could not get anywhere around that water line or breach the easement with any kind of construction, so we went over the top of it, forming this Main Street,” Berry explains.

A unique play area also was created for the children while they are waiting for services to start. “The church hired a consultant who came in and put up futuristic artwork for the kid’s area,” Berry relates.

Can You Hear Me Now?

In some churches, ministers’ voices have to echo throughout the building without amplification. At Northeast Christian Church, wireless microphones and giant video screens clarify their words and messages so worshippers experience the mysteries of faith, rather than those of a lack of amplification. “They have three giant projection screens – one in the middle and two on each side – for viewing videos and flashing up the words to songs when they’re singing,” Berry reports about the new worship center.

“This is technology to the maximum,” he emphasizes. Various services have differing levels of orchestral accompaniment, from bands to orchestras and choirs.

Practicing What It Preaches

Founded in 1945 by Ralph and Elmer Wehr, Claude Berry Jr. bought an interest in Wehr Constructors Inc. in 1967 and became sole owner in 1986. He retired in 1999, and his three sons have led the company since then: Dale Berry as CEO, Claude (Skip) Berry III as chairman of the board and president of the Louisville division and marketing, and Edward Berry as president of the Florida division and design/build.

The company specializes in health care, worship and educational facilities, in addition to commercial, industrial and specialty construction. Wehr’s main offices are in Kentucky, Indiana and Florida.

Blessed With Subcontractors

We have been blessed with our ability to attract new clients, while also maintaining a strong constituency of long-term clients,” Berry says. He is enthusiastic not only about the quality of Wehr’s work, but also about the subcontractors’. “We’re always thankful to have subcontractors on our projects who adhere to Wehr Constructors’ high standards, as the chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” he points out.

“The subcontractor market around here and the market in general is very competitive,” Berry reports. “As construction managers for this project, we hand-selected the subcontractors and suppliers, which helped immensely in ensuring that Northeast Christian Church received the very best work possible.

“These subcontractors, as well as the finished trade subcontractors, worked hand-in-hand with us to maintain the superior level of quality that is the hallmark of Wehr’s reputation for fair, ethical, cost-effective work,” he continues. “Wehr’s mantra is ‘Building buildings ... and relationships,’ and we practice what we preach. This is one of the reasons why we have so much repeat business, including many clients who have been working with us for more than 40 years,” Berry concludes.

Wehr’s key partners include River City Development.

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