Like many established churches, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, MD has not had an update to their facility in over 50 years. MSB Architects was hired to assess the needs in their existing building and prepare a master plan complete with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility improvements and programmatic changes. While it is important to resolve the ADA accessibility issues, what St. Mark’s really needed was a clear front entrance. Like most churches in urban areas, there is a main entrance into the sanctuary, but the parking lot is near the rear of the building, making it more convenient for most individuals to enter another way. Once inside the secondary entrance, parishioners have to travel through several rooms to get to the sanctuary, which is not ideal for moving people through the space. Combined with several elevation changes on the first floor, some changes were needed to make the best use of the space and keep the congregation safe.
Our solution was to design a new main entrance and convert the adjacent space into a small, informal gathering area, perfect for socializing before or after services. The new entry space will be two-stories and have similar architectural character to their existing sanctuary. Not only did this solution provide them with a new entry, but it also allows for the staff in the second floor offices to see the entrance and properly meet guests. After a careful study of the first floor elevation issues, we were able to address the issue through the use of a two sided elevator near the sanctuary. This provides access to every space on the first floor, the basement and second floor, except the auditorium. Access issues to the auditorium were solved through the design of a simple ramp. Our design concept provided solutions that St. Mark’s had not previously considered. Our out of the box thinking for the final master plan layout should meet the church’s needs for the next 50 years.