Avoiding Budget Bloat in Church Construction

Church construction projects (and their budgets) seem only to grow over time, not shrink. Here are three tips to prevent construction budget bloat.

Tip number one is to make sure you have everything in the project budget to begin with. Your project budget should be one that includes everything including site acquisition, site development, architectural design, engineering (including survey, civil and fire), construction interest, fees & permits, consulting fees, contingency and furniture and fixtures. Whatever you forget in the planning stage you will pay for later in the project, usually after you have already used up all of your budget on the things you did remember.

Secondly, make sure the budget is reasonable. Your builder should the church a complete project budget prior to construction. One of the safest contractual arrangements for the church is one that provides a guaranteed not-to-exceed price. In this agreement, the builder is responsible for underbidding, errors, and omissions. This is typically easier to do with a design/build firm, as they are responsible for both the design and construction. If something is left out or underbid, they can blame no one except themselves. Whoever provides the project budget should have some responsibility and liability for that number. For planning purposes, you should figure that your project budget (including everything) will be no less than $100-125 per square foot. Certain states and metro areas will be higher.

Finally, watch the change orders. Change orders will happen. If the changes are required due to code compliance, there is little you can do except grin and bear it (note, the building inspector does not always interpret things the same way the planning department did when they approved your plans). If the change order is because of a design deficiency, you can try to pursue the architect’s errors and omissions insurer (best wishes with that) unless it was design/build, in which case you can probably make some or all of the problem the builder’s. That all being true, the biggest threat however, to budget creep is often the church! Once the church has had designed just about all it can afford (and sometimes more), sometime during project construction the pastor, a deacon, or building committee member will get a “great idea” and ask the builder if they can do it. Generally the answer is yes, however, is always at a cost. It all adds up, $80,000 here, $12,00 there, and pretty soon a budget that was already tight becomes super-critical.

In summary, know what you can truly afford, design to your budget (and stop there), don’t make changes once construction starts, and keep an eye on those change orders. Change orders make up a large portion of many builders profit objectives, so watch out that you don’t pay more for them than they really cost.


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