Monday, March 18, 2019

More on Grace Church’s HVAC Project

With the general, HVAC, and mechanical contractors now in place for Grace Church’s HVAC project, there are two outstanding issues, both of which may affect the church for years to come. To my knowledge, neither has been satisfactorily answered, either by Bob Malm, or the vestry. Yet both warrant further thought and reflection.

First is the issue of the church subsidizing school operations by doing without pastoral and other resources. Yes, Bob Malm is wildly overpaid, particularly given his feckless job performance. But that’s besides the point. As things stand, the only way the church can cover the expenses associated with this project is to hold off on the assistant rector position for as long as possible, and to otherwise cut overhead. That is not good, especially given that Dysfunctional Bob must, under the canons, retire within the next four years. In short, this is a time to strengthen community, and shifting resources away from that goal can only have negative consequences.

Also appalling is that poorly compensated employees, including the sexton and office staff, face regressive taxation as part of these efforts at cost reduction. The church can afford to walk away from $100,000 in debt that Bob Malm owed it, but it can no longer afford to pay the total cost of health insurance for its employees? How does that work? Moreover, Pedro negotiated his compensation package based on the notion that the church would cover his family insurance. Unless the church addressed that issue in its plans, it has double-crossed Pedro and his family. So much for social justice.

Of course, that also raises the larger question of why parishioners should do without pastoral care in order to pay for the AC. The school produces no obvious benefit to the church and already enjoys the subsidy of the 50/50 split on non-fungible costs, despite the fact that it consumes the lion’s share of utilities. Overhead already is much too high with Bob’s ridiculous compensation package, as well as its penchant for full-time employees. So why are people stepping up their pledges to make ends meet, when hundreds of thousands of dollars are going in support of a quasi-independent entity that, over the years, has shown scant respect for the church?

My take on things is that asking parishioners to do without in order to air condition the school is a recipe for long-term trouble, likely to build resentment over time. For years, Chris Byrnes played her empire-building games, yet now it’s suddenly “your school,” in communications with parishioners? Hot dog—Bob must think people have really short memories.

Second is the issue of AC in the nave and undercroft themselves. Woefully inadequate and inefficient in both areas, the compressor is much too large in the undercroft, while there is not nearly enough capacity in the nave. Moreover, air flow in the nave ducts is inadequate for the space and relevant load. Yet these issues are being ignored, despite the fact that the school’s use of the nave, expressed as a percentage of total use, is commensurate with the church’s use of Merrow Hall. But the school is not planning to help fund work on these areas. As a result, the church is uncomfortable for summer weddings, funerals, and other command performances—hardly helpful when the church already is shedding pledging units and members. Thus, one must question why the church is going in debt to pay for HVAC in Merrow Hall, when no thought has been given to its own HVAC woes. And again, all within the context of a $100,000 bonus for Bob Malm—a thoroughly undeserving recipient if there ever was one. Keep in mind, too, that both compressors, the one for the undercroft and the one for the nave, are past actuarial end of life. And being 20-ton units, neither will be cheap to replace. If either fails during the life of the HVAC loan, it’s going to be a tough squeeze to find a solution.

Exacerbating these issues is the fact that financing the HVAC work in the manner currently envisioned prevents funding of issues of primary importance to the church, but secondary importance to the school. For example, neither elevator, nor the parking lot entrance, meet modern handicapped accessibility standards. While probably not a huge deal to the school, the aging population at the church already struggles to access some parts of the building. Similarly, interior directional signage is non-ADA compliant, as it does not include Braille. Thus, persons with limited visual acuity would find Grace church a daunting environment, with its long hallways, numerous doors, and multiple levels. In addition, lighting is woefully inadequate in the third floor hallway, as well as the basement-level stairs outside the church office.

In short, while the vendors chosen for the work are reputable and likely will do an excellent job on the project, the current approach to the project almost guarantees further woes for the church at a time when it’s already in precipitous decline and facing a “lame duck” and largely indifferent rector.

Not good.