Thursday, December 06, 2001

Building does the job of a church

Tent-like structure put to work

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — The Rev. Carl Franco builds bridges.

        He uses drama, popular music and Power Point presentations to bridge modern day with the word of God at WellSpring Community Church in Butler County's Liberty Township.

[photo] Inside his “sprung” structure, pastor Carl Franco has plenty of room for his congregation, musical equipment and sound system.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        To complete his vision of transforming 20 acres of farmland into a multiuse church campus, the Rev. Mr. Franco chose a “sprung” structure as a bridge.

        “We wanted a quick, inexpensive building that reflected our image,” he says.

        The building, manufactured by the Utah-based Sprung Instant Structure, fit the bill. It's cheaper and faster than conventional construction and flashier than most pole barns.

        The structure is made of polyester scrim or cloth pulled tightly between aluminum beams. It can withstand high winds and nasty weather.

        Visible from Interstate 75, the white-domed structure resembles an enormous igloo. Ceilings are 25 feet high. The 5,000-square-foot building seats 200 in the sanctuary. There also are bathrooms and a small foyer.

        Eventually the church hopes to build a 1,000-seat auditorium, classrooms, food court and atrium, and turn the sprung structure into an athletic facility. But for now, it's home for the congregation, which numbers about 250 people at Sunday services. The church held its first services in the new building last month.

        The Rev. Mr. Franco says WellSpring is the first sprung church in the Midwest. Sprung Instant Structure plans an open house at WellSpring in January so local churches considering new building projects can look at the facility.

        Although sprung structures are new to Cincinnati, the company has buildings in more than 100 countries, says spokesman Jim Avery. They are popular with businesses that need multifunctional space, he says, including gaming groups, churches and schools.

        The University of Cincinnati has six sprung structures, including a dining pavilion that seats 450 and houses a main campus kitchen.

        UC settled on the sprung structures as temporary buildings while the school completes extensive construction projects.

        The school considered pole barns, says Ronald Kull, associate vice president and university architect.

        But officials figured that would be “like wearing a basic black dress to a very formal event,” he says. “We wanted something festive to create the type of environment that Main Street is going to be something very different and exciting on campus.”

        The pavilion won a national award for innovation last month, and other colleges have contacted UC about the buildings.

        At Wellspring, local ministers have called and visitors dropped in to see the unusual structure. That gives the Rev. Mr. Franco an opportunity to talk about how the building reflects the message of the church.

        It's OK to think outside the box, says the Rev. Mr. Franco, 38, of West Chester. Conventional isn't the only way to discuss God's word.

        He left an established church in Loveland nine years ago to stake out ground on that belief. He and his wife, Jeannine, sold their house, moved in with friends and held church services at a rented storefront.

        Their vision — and the church — thrived.

        “You can't alter the message because you live in a different time,” the Rev. Franco says. “But you can change how you deliver the message.”


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