March 28, 2002

Church rebuild strays from standard scripture

  • Tripling the size of Yakima’s landmark St. Joseph’s church involved some tricky maneuvers on the tight site, such as dodging power lines and building the roof first.
  • By Julie Highton
    Merritt+Pardini Architects

    St. Joseph’s Church in 1905
    Photo courtesy of the Yakima Valley Museum
    Dark stone was used to rebuild St. Joseph’s Church in 1905. This photo was taken two years later.

    The parish of St. Joseph’s in Yakima has seen its church evolve through many forms since it was first established in 1852. From the simple wood of the mission church and the dark stone of its new Yakima location in 1905, it is now a hybrid of traditional and contemporary styles.

    The new church of St. Joseph’s was built following a fire in 1999 that destroyed the old church’s interior and left only the entry façade and exterior walls standing.

    Tight site

    The team of Yakima-based V.K. Powell Construction and Traho Architects, along with Tacoma architect Merritt+Pardini, has worked with the parish to design a building that reflects its theological beliefs, while meeting its current needs. Of these, the most pressing was for additional worship space to accommodate an expanding congregation that had outgrown the old church’s 7,000 square feet.

    However, with no additional land to accommodate the expansion — the site is restricted by Lincoln Avenue and North Fourth Street, and the rectory and parish school — the new church’s design and siting led to construction challenges that included reversing the usual order of construction staging as the project progressed.

    Concrete wall panels
    Photos by Traho Architects and V.K. Powell Construction
    Concrete wall panels had to be lifted over power wires and lowered into place.

    In the early planning phase, mindful of the congregation’s emotional ties to the old church, the parish chose to retain the east-facing portico, with its two towers of dark, locally-quarried stone and original dedication plaque, and integrate it with the new section of the church. The towers, over 14 feet square with walls 3 feet thick, were stabilized with platform bracing at several levels. A steel truss framework stabilized the wall between the towers, whose 60-foot-high gable is aligned with the longest of the roof axes of the new church.

    “The church’s architectural style has influences of Romanesque and Norman Gothic in its arches and gables,” explained Gary Knudson of Merritt+Pardini Architects. “In doubling the size of the church within the current height restrictions, we designed the building with an intersecting roof element or transept bisecting the nave roof.

    “The dominating north-south transept was oriented to the altar, which was placed against the north wall,” he said. “This permits the seating arrangement for the congregation, sufficient for 1,000 worshippers, to be wide rather than long, enabling people to sit closer to the platform. This required building out to the property line along Lincoln Avenue, and controlling the massing by expressing the lower aisle roofs at all four corners of the church.”

    Roof comes first

    from above
    The church was tripled in size by building upward and adding an unfinished basement.

    The construction of the roof and the exterior walls were the primary challenge of the project due to the location of the property line less than 10 feet from high-voltage transmission lines and the choice of materials for the exterior walls.

    The usual sequencing of building the exterior walls first and then the roof had to be reversed as the parish had selected precast, concrete panels with a board-formed finish for the exterior walls as they liked the visual strength and permanence of the concrete. Because the panels weighed as much as 38,000 pounds apiece, it was necessary to construct 90 percent of the roof first so the panels could be attached to an existing structure and secured in place.

    The roof, 61 feet high at its peak, was constructed from the center outwards. A tower crane was utilized as the only space available for a construction staging area was within the footprint of the building. The weight-bearing load was transferred to two, 60-foot exposed steel girder trusses, that were in turn supported by tube steel columns.

    A large window channels light into the church’s altar.

    “The placement of the panels required special cranes and expert maneuvering to lift them — the longest was 38 feet — over the power lines that stood 43 feet high,” said Joe Beckstrand, construction superintendent for V.K. Powell, the project’s general contractor.

    “During this time, the power was detoured from the lines adjacent to the church to the opposite side of Lincoln,” Beckstrand said. “A structural frame of wide steel flanges and tubes was erected behind the panels to provide support.”

    Some of the old church’s dark stone that had been salvaged from the fire was then recycled into a planter wall at the base of the panels, which function as an architectural plinth and ties the new and old forms together.

    Indoor challenges

    Specially built scaffolding was used so that workers could reach the high, vaulted ceiling.

    Once the walls and the roof were in place, work could begin on the interior of the building. The 30-foot-wide narthex between the front entry and east-west transept was constructed with skylights to provide natural light and views of the historic towers. At the intersection of the transepts, a 49-foot vaulted ceiling caps an area large enough to envelop the old church.

    The roof structure was so large that extensive scaffolding was erected to permit interior work, its weight spread over a large floor area due to the new 8,000 square foot basement. “Two work platforms were built, one at 30 feet and the second tiered to the profile of the vaulted ceiling,” recalled Ken Ormbrek, principal of Traho Architects. “Before stationing the floors and walls, sheetrock and insulation were installed at the highest peaks of the ceiling, followed by painting and installation of electrical fixtures. The work was completed from the top down.”

    concrete panels
    The parish wanted to use precast concrete panels to give the addition visual strength and permanence.

    The cavernous feel of the transepts was mitigated by placing windows on the highest walls of the north-south transept, and low-ceilinged side aisles adjacent to its outside walls. “The old church had a barrel vault, so in the new church we tried to incorporate round columns, arched windows and coved aisle ceilings to resemble the round surface elements in the original building,” said architect Knudson. These curved areas were formed using a framework of steel studs to which gypsum board could be attached.

    While the frescoes that had adorned the walls of the old church could not be replaced, new artwork is being commissioned that has used some innovative construction methods. Stained glass artist Robert Hill of Anacortes is using salvaged glass from the old church and imported glass from France to recreate biblical scenes in windows as large as 19 feet in diameter.

    A special framework for each window had to be built to replace the original wooden ones. The pattern was developed on a computer, enlarged and applied to 1/2-inch steel plates. Cut out by means of high-pressure water jets, the framework consisted of one steel plate on the inside, and one on the outside, 6 inches apart. The 3-foot inner circles of the pattern were then welded to the frame.

    1999 fire
    The portico was one of the few elements that survived a 1999 fire at St. Joseph’s. It is now part of the rebuilt church.

    Artwork for the exterior of the building takes the form of 12-foot crosses mounted atop the steeples on the portico’s towers. The north spire is new, and was assembled on site. To install it, the construction team drilled holes through the spire and inserted steel tubes so it could be lifted into place by a 110-foot crane, and secured using tie down 3/4-inch, all-thread rods and epoxy.

    With a height of approximately 125 feet, the tower and spire are easily recognized as belonging to one of Yakima’s most enduring landmarks.

    The project was completed for $4.8 million. Other team members include two Yakima firms, Conley Engineers, electrical engineering, and All Seasons Heating and Air Conditioning, mechanical design and installation; and Hinzman Engineers of Spokane, structural engineering.

    Julie Highton handles public relations and urban planning at the Seattle and Tacoma offices of Merritt+Pardini.

    Other Stories:

    Copyright ©2009 Seattle Daily Journal and DJC.COM.
    Comments? Questions? Contact us.