2020-10-21 November Board President Article


Your Board of Trustees has been busy since our regular Board meeting in September. We held our Board retreat via Zoom at the end of September, hosted a Town Hall meeting on October 4 to share our interim ministry goals, scheduled and held eight small group conversation sessions to listen to your feedback and ideas about our interim ministry goals, and held our regular Board meeting on October 13.

I thank all who attended the Town Hall meeting and one of the eight “chat” sessions -- and the October Board meeting. It’s inspiring to listen to your ideas and yes, even your concerns. Engaging your leadership in conversation is living our fifth principle -- the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. You illustrated our value of honest, direct, and respectful communication.

It is no surprise that the one interim ministry goal that everyone wanted to talk about was our building plans. But before I summarize the small-group sessions and the other events that have taken place this month, let’s back up to the fall of 2016 for a brief history lesson (one of our interim ministry tasks -- coming to terms with our history.

In November of 2016, after congregational approval, we sold most of our Welborn property to the Department of Transportation as eminent domain. We moved to the Hillel Center as renters in January 2017, with the hope of having our own building in a couple of years. Immediately, the Board appointed a Property Acquisition Team, now known as the Sacred Space Team.

The team solicited input from the congregation on the type of properties it should look for -- land with a building, land without a building, land in College Station, land in Bryan, etc. With these preferences, they went searching, under the guidance of church member and former real estate agent, Mary Bryan. After making several offers on various properties, finally everything fell into place. We were able to purchase a vacant wooded property of just under 3 acres on 29th street in Bryan close to Blinn College in just under 18 months after we sold the Welborn property.

Now let’s build a building! After sending out bids for architects, reviewing eight bids, and interviewing three firms, the Sacred Space Team recommended that the Board hire Pact Design Studio just over a year ago. Under the guidance of the architect, more meetings were held with the congregation to solicit “wish lists” for the building. Pact Design took our ideas, created floor plans, worked with various engineers (HVAC, MEP, landscape, civil, etc.), dealt with the City of Bryan, and did whatever else architects do. Finally, In late spring/early summer of last year, we were ready to solicit bids for the construction with a budget of $1.7M (of the $2.1M remaining of the proceeds from the sale of the Welborn property).

Many of us were shocked when we received bids ranging from $3.1M to over $4M. Of course, we had no idea the impact COVID-19 would have on the cost of building materials and our future building plans. And, we had no idea how we would move forward. Our architect guided our way.

He suggested that we narrow down the list to three contractors and to solicit their suggestions on how we might reduce costs. Pact Design had identified some possibilities of cost savings and the three contractors suggested others when they submitted their new bids. While the costs were lower, we still did not have a bid that fit our budget.

Our architect recommended that we select one of the three with whom we would continue negotiations. The SST team interviewed the three contractors and recommended to the Board that we continue negotiations with Keys and Walsh Construction. The Board approved this recommendation at its September 8 Board meeting.

By this time, the architect, the contractors, and even the SST team had accumulated nearly 40 ways in which we might realize some savings. But how would we decide which ones? The SST and the Board agreed that it was time to go back to the congregation. The SST developed a feedback survey listing the possible saving options (known as “value engineering” options) and asked the members of the congregation to tell the team if they favored the savings, opposed the savings, or were neutral about it. The SST discussed some of the saving options at the Town Hall meeting and mailed the survey and options lists to each member providing a due date for completion by October 7.

The small group sessions with the Board revealed that most of those attending were eager to proceed with construction even with the elimination of some features and were willing to contribute time, talent, and treasures for our new home. Some expressed concern that so much money would be spent on a building and believed we could build a less costly building that would meet our needs.

After tabulating the results of the 30+ completed surveys we received, it was clear that the congregation wanted to keep the metal roof (opposed the shingle-roof savings) and the skylight (opposed the elimination of the skylight). And the survey results were also clear on all but 16 of the other items -- most of which would result in savings. The members of the SST ranked the remaining 16 items as to which savings we could realize first and which could be the last.

The survey results, the SST rankings, and the comments from the small group sessions have now been shared with the architect and the contractor. They are working with subcontractors and engineers to provide one more bid after considering the feedback of the congregation. The SST plans to meet with the architect and contractor on Thursday, October 22 to discuss options and review a new bid.

While we, the SST and the Board, are confident that we will receive a bid that is much closer to our $1.7M budget, we are prepared to conduct a fundraising drive to raise an additional $200,000 - $300,000. These funds will give us the ability to provide some of the items and features that are no longer in the bid in order to open the doors. Additionally, we will have a heftier cushion for overruns or other unexpected expenses.

Rob McGeachin and Nancy Granovsky will coordinate the fundraising effort. Last year, Ken and Kathy Appelt committed to a $50,000 matching pledge, and we have already received a pledge of $20,000 from another generous congregant toward the Appelt match. So we need another $30,000 in pledges to meet the match and to reach ⅓ to ½ of our goal. We encourage pledges to be paid within a year from the beginning of construction. Stay tuned for information on how you can pledge or make donations toward this fundraising effort.

After we have a final bid from the contractor and after our attorney has reviewed the construction contract, the Board will host a congregational meeting. We will share the final cost and building design and request your approval to proceed with the building construction with Keys and Walsh Construction. Save the date -- November 15, 2020, at Noon -- for this very important and historical congregational meeting. Hopefully, we will have a groundbreaking event in late November or early December after the building construction contract has been signed..

The Board offers its gratitude to the previous and current members of the Sacred Space Team and the Board of Trustees and to the ministers that have guided and are guiding us to reach this momentous goal. And to you, the members of this congregation, for your feedback and your financial contributions to reach this historical milestone.

To paraphrase a quote from Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens [congregation members] can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.


Gaye Webb, Board President

Photo by Dakota Roos on Unsplash

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Meet Our Minister

The Rev. Christian Schmidt is our interim minister, and first became a Unitarian Universalist in this congregation where he was an active member from 2006-2009. He has since served congregations in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California. His interests include his family (including four little boys he and his wife are raising), sports, and theology.    minister@brazos-uu.org