Hiring a Church Contractor: What You Should Know

Hiring A Church Contractor: What You Should Know
Jack Fellmane

(In many churches, construction and maintenance projects are overseen by the Men’s Ministry. For this reason we have included this excellent article for your consideration.  Editors)

Some of the most important decisions take place before you drive the first nail.

You must decide the size and scope of the project, what it will look like, and how you’re going to afford it. But possibly the most crucial decision involves choosing the right people for the job.

Here’s some advice on using volunteer labor, choosing a contractor, obtaining builders risk insurance, and reviewing your construction contract.

Don’t Do It Yourself

Community Bible Church needed to expand its sanctuary, but its members were concerned about the cost. So the church decided to act as its own general contractor, hire low-cost subcontractors, and have skilled church members provide much of the labor. After all, several were experienced homebuilders and carpenters. But what appeared to be the most inexpensive route ended up costing the church in the long run.

A volunteer church member was helping a subcontractor set roof trusses on the sanctuary’s 100-foot span when an improperly secured brace broke free, sending the volunteer tumbling to the concrete below. As a result of the subcontractors’ negligence, the volunteer suffered serious injuries. Not only did the church suffer the shock of having one of its volunteers injured, but it also paid far more for the person’s hospital and rehabilitation expenses than it could collect from its insurance policy. That’s because the volunteer didn’t have any family medical insurance, and the church decided it should pay all of his medical bills. The church couldn’t recover any money from the subcontractor because he was uninsured.

Situations like this are just one example of why it’s important to choose a competent commercial builder, says Scott Figgins, vice president of claims for Brotherhood Mutual. �There’s a huge difference between building a home and building a $2 million church,” Figgins says. “Something as dangerous as setting trusses should never be done by volunteers.”

Even projects that appear to be within a person’s range of experience can lead to serious injuries.

Figgins recalls a claim in which a church member- and professional painter- agreed to paint a church’s interior. The man had placed an extension ladder atop scaffolding to reach an area 30-40 feet high. The ladder slid, the scaffolding pulled away, and the man fell to the ground. The fall caused a partial but permanent disability that affected his ability to provide for his family. The painter had no disability insurance.
Before using volunteers for a project, church leaders must consider the risk of injury, especially for people without direct experience in commercial building construction. In most cases, professionals should be hired. Risking the lives and welfare of church members just isn’t worth it.

Choose a Qualified Builder

The size and scope of your project will help determine how much expertise you need. If your church is planning a large project, consider hiring an architectural firm, possibly one that specializes in church construction. An architectural firm will design your project and assign a construction manager, if needed. The construction manager will oversee hiring a general contractor and subcontractors, buying materials, investigating local zoning ordinances, obtaining the proper permits, and so on. He’ll be responsible for ensuring that the project is completed on time and serve as the liaison between you and the workers hired for the project.

For a smaller project, you might hire a general contractor directly. The general contractors’ responsibilities are similar to those of a construction manager, except that he doesn’t act as a liaison; he reports directly to you. That puts more responsibility on you to oversee the building process.

Check References

You’ll want to make sure the contractor is qualified for the project you’re planning. The Associated General Contractors of America recommends that you verify a contractors licenses, make sure he has at least five years experience, and contact the Better Business Bureau to see if it has any information on your candidate. Your local building department or building contractors association should be able to tell you if a contractor is properly licensed to work on your project.

Ask how many jobs like yours the contractor has completed, seek examples of work the contractor has done on other projects, and seek references from several current or past clients who’ve had similar work done, according to the contractors association. Randomly call at least three previous clients.

Ask specific questions, such as: Was the project completed on schedule? Was it completed within budget? Were there problems along the way? Were you pleased with the overall results?

Bid It Out

After compiling a list of contractors, ask the best three to submit bids on your project. Give all three the same specifications for your project, so the bids will be easier to compare. Remember that the lowest bid isn’t always the best bid. That contractor might use lower-quality materials or do less extensive work. Make sure the candidate you choose is dependable and reputable.
Consider bonding the project if it’s large or time-sensitive. A bond ensures that a contractor is financially prepared to assume responsibility if he’s unable to complete the job. Never proceed with a contractor if he’s unable or unwilling to back up his work financially.

Confirm Insurance

Don’t assume that your contractor carries adequate insurance. Confirm that your contractor maintains workers compensation, vehicle, and liability insurance. In addition, either he or you should carry builders risk insurance, which covers damage to the structure or materials during the construction phase.

If your contractor doesn’t carry proper insurance, you could be left with the responsibility of paying for injuries or damaged property caused by the contractors’ negligence.

In one instance, a subcontractor was working on the church roof when he slipped and fell, breaking his leg in two places. Normally, workers compensation insurance would have paid his medical bills, since he was on the job when the injury happened. But the roofer worked for a small operation with only a handful of employees. His boss had never bought workers compensation insurance, saying it was too expensive. The man filed a lawsuit against the church and won.

Require the general contractor and all subcontractors to furnish a certificate of insurance verifying that all workers are properly insured. This is important, because a subcontractor who gets injured on the job (like the roofer) could sue you for job-related injuries that should properly be covered by workers compensation insurance.

Get It in Writing

Any agreement you make with your contractor should be in writing. No matter how trustworthy a contractor may seem, requiring a written contract will ensure that your church s project will be completed with the desired results, within the time frame specified, and within the price range your church expected to pay.

The contract package should include a copy of the drawings or architectural plans, a complete list of building specifications, and the contract itself. The drawings should illustrate the elements described in the plans, including the dimensions. The list of specifications should detail the elements, clearly identifying the products and materials to be used.

The contract itself should include the following sections: description of work to be performed, work schedule, payment schedule, warranty information, statement of permits, statement of insurance and bonds, and an arbitration or mediation clause.

Review Before Signing

Church members sometimes fear that questioning contract language will jeopardize the deal they’re negotiating, says John Hein, associate corporate counsel for Brotherhood Mutual. But failing to do so could have more costly consequences. Ask an attorney to review the contract before you sign it.

Not long ago, a church signed a mutual release and waiver of subrogation with a contractor working on its new building. During the course of the project, a welder accidentally set fire to an existing building, causing several million dollars worth of damage. The church’s insurance company could not collect a dime from the contractor. The church had signed a legally binding contract to hold him harmless for any accidental damage. Churches may dispute contracts after a situation like this, saying they didn’t understand the terms or language. They seldom win. Courts often assume that a church that is sophisticated enough to undertake a major building program is sophisticated enough to understand an agreement it has made, Hein says.

Building projects typically involve a lot of time and money. By making careful decisions in the planning stage, you can avoid making some potentially expensive errors.

“Hiring A Church Contractor: What You Should Know”. Jack Fellmane

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”