Gaines Group Architects

Eating Pavilion for Friends of Ft. Liberte (Haiti)

I believe it is our purpose in life to help others. Finding ways to do that through your career is not always possible. However, as an architect the opportunities are wide and plentiful. It warmed my heart to hear that Paul Tassell and James Halstead in our Charlottesville office were working to help The Friends of Ft. Liberte to design an Eating Pavilion in collaboration with First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville.
Here is the story from Paul:
“I attend First United Methodist Church and was asked by Dave Wheatley, a local carpenter,mission trip leader, and member of First United Methodist Church of Charlottesville, to help with the structure and some images for an eating pavilion in Haiti. To support this project financially, visit their donation page here.
Friends of Ft. Liberte (Haiti) – First UMC and members of the Central Virginia area partner with The Friends of Ft. Liberte  a 501(c) 3 founded to serve the people of the Ft. Liberte area in northeast Haiti ( This charity has helped develop a farm that is now producing and selling plantain and chickens for profit. There are about 450 children in the sponsorship program which allows them to attend school and get at least one free meal a day. They support a medical clinic which is open daily and provides care for residents in a large area of Northeast Haiti. Medical demand has grown exponentially since the government shut down the only hospital in the area. There is active ministry to the elderly in the area and in the area of education. Yearly service trips involve a wide variety of activities and opportunities designed to help meet the needs of God’s people in Haiti.
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flood water

Storm Preparation for your home and business

It looks like this storm is coming right at us. It is time for storm preparation just in case the forecast is right. The current forecast is calling for 6 -10″+ of rain and strong winds. This could lead to flooding like we have not seen as our ground is already saturated after the second wettest summer on record. This also could lead to downed trees and power outages. Perhaps it will still turn and not impact us directly, but if it keeps the forecast, the time to do storm preparation is now.


Do you have a storm preparation plan for your home and business? Here are some things that you should do to get ready.

  • Know what your insurance covers before the storm and who to call if you need to make a claim. If you face damage you want to have a quick process to get it fixed.
  • Make sure gutters are clear of any debris.
  • Verify that downspouts are pushing water away from the structure – add a pipe if you are not getting enough flow away from the structure.
  • Check the storm drains around your home and business. Make sure they are clear of debris and open for water to flow freely.
  • Check your landscape beds to see if mulch could wash out and clog the flow of water.
  • Plan out an escape route in case you need to get out quickly, know where you are going – have a plan in place.
  • Stock up on sandbags if you are in a flood prone area – stack them like a brick wall for best strength against moving water. The wall should be at least 12″ higher than you expect the water level and twice as wide as it is tall.
  • Move valuables to higher ground – computers, files, photo albums – remember that your dishwasher is a water tight cabinet when locked and closed
  • Check to make sure your flashlights have batteries and you have a stash of back up batteries.
  • Know the location of your first aid kit.
  • Have a battery-powered radio in case – please don’t let it be – the internet goes down for any reason.
  • Make sure your car is filled with gas prior to this weekend – maybe fill an extra tank or two if you have them.
  • Make sure your supplies are ready – toilet paper, diapers, wipes, baby food, pet food.
  • Store drinking water and stock up on imperishable foods.
  • Verify that your sump pump is working, oiled, and ready to pump.
  • Secure any loose landscape items – chairs, trash cans, bikes, toys, hanging plants, lawn decorations.
  • Check your landscape – are there diseased or damaged limbs in your trees? If so, have them removed asap.
  • Fill bathtub with water in case power goes out and flushing becomes difficult (assuming you have a well and rely on a pump).
  • Use a gallon jug of water with a headlamp attached to light an entire room.
  • Make sure your grill propane tank is full so you have ability to cook in case of extended power outage.
  • Purchase or locate your shop vac for easy clean-up after the storm.
  • Have a stash of towels to mop up as needed.
  • Have a chainsaw handy just in case you need to cut limps or trees that are downed in the storm.
  • Purchase a portable generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer running in case we have multiple days of power outage.

flood water

What else should be on the list? Please add your advise to the comments section below.

storm preparation

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Mincers Charlottesville

Support small business for a healthier community

Remember to like, share, and repost your favorite small business on Facebook today. Many of us small business owners rely on social media as a low-cost way to market our companies. However, social media platforms are constantly changing and creating more limits on who sees posts from businesses. We don’t have the budget to create a controversy that goes viral like the big shoe companies. We struggle to find consistent interesting content that you will like and share. We work hard to be relevant and creative so you will continue to follow our page. It is hard work for sure. So, I am asking that you like, share, and repost something from a locally owned small business today.
facebook logo
Social media is not all I do for marketing of course, but it may be the most important because it is your endorsement that gets me my next job. I can run ads all day, but your endorsement is what really matters. When you tell a friend that you trust me, it carries more weight than any advertisement. When you tell a friend to give me a call, it changes their perception of me. When you tell a friend to hire me, it gives me the next opportunity I have been working hard to find.
Old Trail Golf Course
Here is an example: I was called to a home last week to do an energy audit. I do them for free for anyone that wants one. The home owners were told to call me by someone who knows and supports our business. Thanks for that. They were concerned about the air quality in their home that was being prepared for a renovation. I was able to lay out the building science case for how to approach the renovation as part of the energy-audit. This gave them confirmation on research they had already done. We figured out through our conversation that they had been reading my blog in the past, but did not call me to design their renovation. They viewed the blog as a huge resource, but not enough to hire over the recommendation from a friend to hire another architect. It was the personal endorsement of one of their friends that convinced them to call me. That personal connection telling them to trust me makes all the difference. 
Mincers Charlottesville
The power of social media is not what I post. It is not the content I create. The power of social media is that your friends trust your recommendations. If you recommend me for a job it is highly likely that I will get the job. I am asking you to support me, but also support other locally owned small businesses on social media. Ads and marketing will only do so much. Please like, share, and repost for me or some other small business today. Please write a review online on google, facebook, or LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for your support. Reading my blog is also a great way to support my business. I really appreciate you taking time to read.
speech and language center
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Viktoriya Samoylov

First Friday Art Opening – Viktoriya Samoylov

First Friday Art Opening  with Viktoriya Samoylov

“Significantly Cheaper than Therapy”

Viktoriya Samoylov

September 7, 2018

5pm – 8pm

Gaines Group Architects

141 W. Bruce St. – Second Floor

Harrisonburg, Va

Acrylic, Oil, Digital Drawing, and Resin Art.

Viktoriya Samoylov
I am Viktoriya, a Ukrainian-American in the Shenandoah Valley.

This current selection of pieces is a reflection of personal changes within myself specifically in the past few years. Local places, places I’ve traveled, portraits of family, and art experiments are included.

Subject matter and mediums are consistently changing. With time, I’ve begun creating pieces that carry an emotional connection to me, as opposed to simply a visual appeal or statement.

Though I no longer own most of the pieces I’ve created in the past fifteen or so years, I begin the arrangement with a self-portrait of myself that I created as a preteen, of myself, age 10.

It ends with another, of myself, age 29, and 11 months.

Viktoriya Samoylov
Follow my journey: Instagram @onepixelcreative

Past First Friday Events

Caroline Conlon

Greg Versen

Joey Laughlin

Ellen Vanover

Aaron Zook

Amanda Dicken


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net zero farm house

Advice For New Students in Architecture This Year: Find Your Passion

Here is my opinions / advice for the new students in architecture this year, find your passion.

Find your passion. Then follow.


keep calm architect

I figured out I wanted to be an architect in seventh grade. I followed that interest to community college and then to a four-year university and then graduate school. As a student at the University of Virginia, design studio was the focus. We spent hours and hours doing sketches, building models, and trying to figure out ways to stay awake. I learned valuable lessons of humility, thick skin, and most important, how to think design. The time I had at UVA did a wonderful job preparing me to be a problem solver, but it did not feed my soul as I expected.

I then worked at an architectural firm, the one I own now, for almost three years. I started out doing drafting, red lines is what we called it. Hours and hours of adjusting changes requested by clients, fixing mistakes, and updating details. It was enjoyable work, but more like the feeling of accomplishment you get after mowing a green lawn. You can see your progress made and you can feel good about finishing the task. I was included in design decisions, but I was not designing the solutions. I learned about buildings and how they work. I learned about what to draw and what not to draw. I was learning process and industry standards. I was a part of the team, but I was not driving the solutions. It was what I wanted to do in life, but it turns out this was not my life’s passion. My soul still needed something.

I have written about finding my passion for serving others many times. This is what feeds my soul. The one lecture I attended by Samuel Mockbee gave me permission and vision for how to get there. More on that HERE. The summary is “everybody deserves good design.

red wing roots music festival

I learned from my parents the importance of taking care of other people. This is my passion. This feeds my soul. It took me a long time to embrace this passion. I thought my passion was to be an architect, but that is only one of the tools I can use in life to serve my community. My passion is to serve my community to help make it a better place for everyone in the community. I wish I could go back to my days in architectural school and really have time to dig into this idea of design to help others. I wish I had identified my passion before my major, but we evolve and things are revealed to us when we are ready to hear and see them.

For all the new architectural students starting their journey. I encourage you to find your passion beneath the major, beyond the school, deep in your heart. What do you want to achieve with your gifts and skills. I hope your passion is to design a better future for all of us. We need more people focused on something deeper than just aesthetics, we need passion for designing a future that builds us all as a community. However, you need to figure out what feeds your soul. Only you can do that work. Finding your passion may be the most important thing you can do while at college.

net zero farm house


It took me years to figure out my passion in life and I am still learning. As a college student please seek out mentors that are doing things that seem interesting to you. Find blogs like this one and read what others that have walked the path you are on have experienced and what they are saying. Seek out beauty in life and figure out what and how it feeds your soul.  Slow down, don’t rush your time. Enjoy the process and explore the why as much as the how and because. Find things that feed your soul and figure out how that ties into your work in studio.

My advice to you – find your passion and then follow it to where it takes you.

Here are some other blogs I have written that might help you become the architect you and your community need you to be in the future:

Best advice for a high school student

Find a mentor

Find a mentor


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Eastern Mennonite Elementary School

Eastern Mennonite Elementary School

Eastern Mennonite Elementary School construction has started. The first round of demolition over the summer removed interior finishes and asbestos. You could tell something was going on by the workers around the building and the dumpsters, but from the outside it was hard to see progress. The flooring, walls, ceilings, wiring, and insulation were all removed to make way for the new Elementary school layout to fit perfectly into the existing space. Plans have evolved as pricing has been developed by the contractor and design has continued through the pricing phase. Often in renovation work we don’t have the chance to see behind the walls before design documents are finished. This preliminary demolition opened up the structure and we have been able to see actual conditions and plan the correct solutions for any issues that have been identified.

Eastern Mennonite Elementary School

Now phase two of the demolition has started for Eastern Mennonite Elementary School. The trees along Rt 42 are being taken down. They have been deformed by power line trimming over the years. They also are in the space of the new stair and elevator tower needed for circulation in the new elementary school. While we hate to lose these mature trees, we will bring back landscaping once construction on the building is complete. Planning will be done to select and locate trees that can better coexist with the power lines. The wood is being saved for use around the school as benches and play structures.

Eastern Mennonite Elementary School

The next big change will be the removal of the recording studio that is attached to the warehouse. This will be a dramatic change to the existing building. Stay tuned for updates.

Eastern Mennonite Elementary School

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Renew Rocktown

Community means helping each other without expectation of anything in return

I have heard that true service is when you help someone who can never help you in return. It is a call to action to reach out a helping hand to others. It is the Rotary calling card – service above self. It drives us to support one another without worry of labels, politics, or greed. This has become a main focus for my design work through my career. I want to build a better and stronger community through design. This means designing houses for clients that are energy-efficient. This means reducing overall demand on our power grid and our impacts on climate change through fossil fuel consumption reduction. This means capturing rain water to reduce erosion and flooding downstream. This means designing apartment communities in ways that bring neighbors together to meet each other. Design can solve a lot of problems, and it can also build good. To me, this is why I design. As Sam Mockbee said “everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul.” This comes in all forms of service and community work. It comes as drawings of a new project. It also comes in the form of sharing advice on how to improve your building to reduce your utility costs. It comes from teaching young people the value of design. It comes through service to my community. To me community means helping each other without expectation of anything in return.

A story of impact from design

Renew Rocktown arranged for Our Community Place to get a free energy audit through the Sustainable Building Coalition in Harrisonburg. Energy Audits is a service our firm is able to provide in partnership with equipment provided to us by HEC. We offer residential audits in Harrisonburg through HEC and outside of Harrisonburg through our firm. We can also help non-profits and small businesses by providing free energy audits.
Renew Rocktown Renew Rocktown
The energy audit provided a list of strategies to help this community organization reduce their energy consumption.
OCP then partnered with volunteers to install LED bulbs in their building, the fastest return on investment we identified. Then Renew Rocktown, through the efforts of Jeff Heie helped them get a grant to solarize their roof. This could provide 70% of their energy needs through a clean energy source. For a non-profit, reducing utilities bills allows them to better serve their community. This work that started with an energy audit, then volunteers working on lights, then solar pv on the roof will have a ripple effect in our community for years to come. This is my community! 
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church renovation demolition

Park View Mennonite Church Renovation – Part 4

Church Renovation Team Building, Part 4

One of the most important things in life to achieve success is to surround yourself with honest hard-working people with a shared vision. This is critical not only in life, but also in construction. Having the right team in place for a complicated project with tight schedule goals the only way to deliver a complicated project on time and on budget. I absolutely think having an architect lead the planning process was critical (obviously I am biased). Our role has been to create base plans for everyone to work off of, establish the scope of problems that needed solutions, evaluate and offer solutions, and be a sounding board for client and contractors. We facilitated meetings, answered many questions, presented findings, offered advice, formed a team, and continue to process questions and information on a daily basis.

Gaines Group Architects

Including a mechanical engineer, Suter Engineering, and mechanical contractor, Excel HVAC, was a must to solve this building’s problems. Also, having the future general contractor on the design team also provided him time to be up to speed on the goals and challenges in advance of pricing the project. The pre-planning that was done with Herr & Co. during design also helped a lot also to set limits on construction to stay within budget. Jim and his team were able to walk the building, know the goals and challenges, and bring in the right team of experts to provide solutions. For instance, A-Able plumbing was able to solve a question about source of water infiltration in a basement wall – a pipe in the upstairs kitchen – prior to digging or rerouting on the exterior of the building. This put a plan in place prior to them showing up at the site saving time and money.  Weaver’s flooring helped guide the finish selections for flooring keeping us on budget and the right scope in play. We had lots of questions about durability and indoor environmental quality and they walked us through the best solutions. Mast landscapes and Maust Enterprises have been working together to efficiently remove landscaping that was in the way of new equipment or causing water issues. They have also worked together to provide needed drainage of rainwater away from the building. Someone has sent us plenty of rain so we could verify issues that needed to be addressed, thanks God. Valley Roofing came through for us with a solution that gave the water protection I was looking for, but also saved the steeple that we had reluctantly planned to remove. Blosser lighting was able to find a solution to convert our existing (no longer available) sanctuary lights to LED. Copper Key has found and solved issues through the building to make us safer and to provide electric where it was needed for all our new heating and cooling systems. Schlabach drywall found the most cost-effective high sound absorbing ceiling tiles to reduce the impact of changing carpeted spaces over to laminate flooring. I may have missed someone on the list. The point is we have a solid team of honest and hard-working folks making this project as smooth as possible. They are working in dirty conditions in a building with no air conditioning in the summer in Virginia. There have been no major tension and things have gone as smooth as can be expected on a construction site. Picking the right team was critical in this project as it is in all projects.

church renovation demolition

Part one HERE.

Part two HERE.

Part three HERE.

More on this project soon.

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church renovation demolition

Park View Mennonite Church Renovation – Part 3

Church Renovation Demolition Process, Part 3

The church renovation project at Park View Mennonite Church has a lot of moving pieces and parts. Once the design process was done and the church congregation unanimously endorsed our design solution, it was time to switch roles again. Herr and Co. left my team and became the General Contractor for the project forming their own team of experts to execute the design solution. I have continued my role as architect and attend weekly site meetings. Eric Beck from Beck Builders was added to the team as the owners representative. This is a great way to keep communications flowing with the many church committees and leaders. The church gave authority to the owners rep, Eric, to make some decisions without taking it to others for approval which speeds up the flow of work on site. The church also has a strong volunteer committee that has gone above and beyond helping on this project to cut costs by cleaning, removing ceiling tiles, removing built-in shelving, wrapping items that need to be protected during construction, and soon refinishing wood floors. This is a huge part of the project outside of all the volunteers that packed, carried boxes, offered office space, coordinate temporary worship space…. the list goes on and on. This project has been a true team effort.

church renovation demolition

The demolition process is loud, messy, dangerous, and a time to verify design solutions. As you start to uncover things through demolition there are often surprises. In this case through the demolitions process, we learned that the as-built documents used in design did not truly reflect the duct runs and pipe locations. Our mechanical engineer, Suter Engineering, and mechanical contractor, Excel HVAC, have worked closely together to coordinate the right solutions for the space. We did not find any other huge surprises which is always good in demolition work, although it very often happens. The volunteer committee that removed ceiling tiles in advance of demolition helped reduce surprises allowing a view of all the systems above ceiling that needed coordination. Perhaps we should have done this earlier in the design process, but there was a goal to keep the church looking like a church closer to construction starting. Demolition included taking down all ceiling grid, pulling up impacted carpet, removing cabinets and some walls, cutting drywall, and removing 100% of the heating and cooling systems in the building. There were serious air quality concerns during this period of time as the mold in the building was released into the air. The demolition crew did what was possible to seal off spaces during their work to prevent mold from spreading. The demolition finished as planned with air scrubbers running, masks being worn, and anti-microbial being used to control air contaminants. Now about building the right team during construction.

church renovation demolitionchurch renovation demolitionchurch renovation demolition

Part one HERE.

Part two HERE.

More on this project tomorrow.


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church renovation

Park View Mennonite Church Renovation – Part 2

Church Renovation Design Process, part 2

Part 1 of the church renovation story here.

At this point, my volunteer work was becoming more than what I could give for a church renovation. I switched roles a bit and was hired as an architect to build a team of professionals to coordinate the design for our church renovation. We were given the air and surface test report which told us that almost all the duct work and heating / cooling units in the building had been compromised. Our team of designers started documenting all the leaks around the building. We not only had water coming in from the roof, but also leaking boiler pipes and water infiltrating the basement walls. We added Suter Engineering and Excel HVAC to our team to provide a solution to replace 100% of the heating and cooling systems. This solution would be a major expense, but the only method of treatment for mold that the EPA endorses is a full removal of the impacted equipment. We wanted to do all we could to solve this indoor environmental quality problem and it was a complicated solution. Suter and Excel were able to put together a plan and a budget to fix the mechanical systems in the building. They were also able to convert all heating / cooling systems to electric eliminating the need for natural gas for anything other than stove and water heating. This will allow our solar PV to supply most of our energy needs and for us to reduce our environmental footprint. While the mechanical system is the biggest part of the work that needed to be done, that is not the entire story for this church renovation.

church renovation church renovation

Through the design process we were able to document almost all of the leaks and the causes. There were roof, flashing, and grade leaks / issues. There were gutter leaks and downspouts clogged. There were leaking boiler pipes and carbon filters. There were leaking drains and plumbing issues. From all the water issues in the building we also found drywall and insulation that needed to be replaced. One of the biggest, literally, problems we needed a solution for was our steeple was leaking. I presented the idea of removing it and adding a more traditional roof in place and to my surprise the congregation agreed to it. More on this decision later. The indoor fabric surfaces were impacted by mold growth and needed to be cleaned or replaced. This was also a good chance to update the warming kitchen and to add a needed family restroom. We added Herr and Co. to our design team. Bringing a contractor into the design phase is a good option to maximize the effectiveness of your team. They are able to guide and direct based on best practices in the field and to price the project as it is designed. They also offer a different perspective on solutions. This led to our ability to save the steeple!

More on this project tomorrow.


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