Gaines Group Architects
church renovation

Park View Mennonite Church Renovation – part 1

Church Renovation

Park View Mennonite Church is going through a church renovation. This project started several years ago and has developed into a major overhaul of systems in the building. It is complicated, expensive, and needs to be solved quick. Working on a church renovation means working for a committee or even several committees. This creates its own set of challenges. 


So let’s go back to the start, at least the start where I joined the project. Soon after starting to attend Park View Mennonite Church I found “my people.” The creation care building committee welcomed me to their group and the work they had already started. One of the first conversations I encountered was about adding solar pv to the roof – I had really found “my people.” The goal of the committee work was to reduce our carbon footprint here in Harrisonburg. You see as a missions based church we want to help people around the world. It turns out that those most impacted by climate change are among the poorest in the world. Our actions locally and our energy usage locally impact them. Our goal on the committee was and is to reduce our carbon based energy usage as much as possible. The committee had already, before my involvement, done an energy-audit and insulated some of the biggest air leaks in the building. After I joined the committee we continued that work, added solar pv, and started replacing light bulbs with LED bulbs.

However, something was wrong in the building and it was becoming more and more clear it was time for a church renovation. The building was suffering from water leaks that had been occurring since the addition was added 26 years ago. It seemed each time we corrected a new leak that water would find a new path. Venture Builders repaired a failing basement wall that had water issues. We started a service contract to have a company clean out the gutters to keep water flowing in the right paths. We added a dehumidifier in the basement. Beck Builders adjusted a concrete slab that was draining water into a wall. We caulked, repaired, adjusted – but something was still wrong. We were trying to put a band-aid on a gash. Our work was not catching up to the problem and it was becoming clear that we needed more than just volunteers to coordinate the fix. We hired an expert to evaluate our indoor environmental quality and he provided an extensive report of all the issues we had in the building. It was time to start the church renovation.

church renovation church renovation

More on this project tomorrow.

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smiling baby

Little things matter, a lot!

Little things matter, a lot!

Have you ever been standing in line where a mom is holding a baby in front of you. When the baby smiled at you did it bring you joy? That little action by that little person could be the thing that changed your entire day. Perhaps you then were more likely to pass a smile on to the cashier as your items were processed and he / she then passed on a smile to the person behind you in line. That little smile could create a ripple effect of happiness. What if the action taken was rude or mean? What if someone stepped in front of you in line and that put you in a foul mood? Would you have passed that on as well? Little things matter, a lot!

smiling baby

Little things matter, a lot, when trying to make a difference.

I have been thinking a lot about the little things in life these past months. How can we make our community and world a better place with so much negativity sitting on top everyday? There is so much evil and so many dishonest selfish people around it is sometimes hard to see good. It is a heavy burden to have to deal with these people and even see them lead our national conversation. It can seem overwhelming. I often feel overwhelmed. So what can I do about it? Where can I make a difference?


Little things matter, a lot, design matters, a lot.

I work hard to be the best father I can be first. I try to be a supportive friend to those around me – even those I don’t agree with all the time. I am terrible at remembering to smile, but that is something simple I can do each day. As an architect I try to remember all the little things in our designs. Those little actions that can help reduce resource consumption and energy usage. Those little design things that save our clients money. Those things that will make their lives easier when using the spaces we designed. I focus on bringing beauty to our clients through built forms. Have you ever counted the number of steps you take when cooking? Architects have a formula for what works best. Have you ever felt out-of-breath after walking up a steep flight of stairs – I mean in a building other than our office? There is a formula for a comfortable stair that many homes do not meet. There are standards for room sizes, window heights, door widths, and space between cabinets in kitchens that all impact comfort and costs. As architects and interior designers we have spent years learning how to create spaces that are comfortable, efficient, and healthy. Design is one of the little things that matter, a lot. Design is one place where I can help bring a ripple effect in our community.

Natural Chimney Stage

Weiler Orthodontics

Caitlin Funkhouser Photography

speech and language center





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wall water stain

Deferred maintenance can destroy a building, call us to help correct the problems

Deferred maintenance can destroy a building.

We have an active renovation project under construction in Harrisonburg. It is a large facility that does not have a full-time maintenance crew working on the building leading to deferred maintenance. This particular building is a church which presents some unique challenges for maintaining the building systems.

deferred maintenance

Example of deferred maintenance:

The regular users of the building on a day-to-day basis typically only work in a small portion of the building. There are lots of people passing through the building once or twice a week, but not that have ownership of issues they might see. For instance, if there is a ceiling tile that has a water stain, someone who is only in the building on occasion will probably assume that someone in the building on a day-to-day basis is taking care of it. However, the day-to-day people may not know about the leak since they don’t regularly use the entire building. This leads to maintenance issues that go unchecked for longer than normal times.

deferred maintenance

When a problem is identified it needs to be corrected quickly. This leads to a service call that addresses the immediate issue, but probably does not look for the cause of the problem or address the long-term impacts.

Example deferred maintenance:

For instance, a strong rain comes from the north, which is unusual. The roof leaks in a new place that has not happened in the past. The roofer comes and adds caulk to the entry point on the roof to seal the roof from leaking again. This fixes the roof leak  for the moment.

Questions not asked:

The questions that are not asked typically are why did that joint open up to allow the leak. Did the interior finish materials all get dried out adequately. Are there any interior materials that need to be replaced? Should the wall be opened up to investigate the moisture more fully? 

I put both of these examples in the category of deferred maintenance. Nobody is to blame, it is just how things happen in large buildings that don’t have someone assigned specifically to maintenance. A building is the most complicated machine you will ever own. Weather conditions outside impact how the building performs. People using the building impact how the building performs. The way the building is constructed and the systems in the building impact how the building performs. There is not a standard answer to all the questions that will emerge. Buildings are complicated and there are a lot of moving parts. Deferred maintenance unfortunately will destroy the building. This is hard to avoid in a large facility that does not get regular daily use.

deferred maintenance

On this particular renovation project a team was assembled that could take on the challenge of correcting past deferred maintenance problems that were destroying the building. The team includes architect (Gaines Group Architects), contractor (Herr and Co.), Mechanical Engineer (Suter Engineering), Mechanical Contractor (Excel Heating and Cooling), Electrician (Copper Key), Drywallers (Schlabach Drywall), roofing contractor (Valley Roofing), flooring contractor (Weavers Flooring), and owners representative (Beck Builders). It takes a comprehensive team of experts to address all the issues. If you are facing any deferred maintenance concerns in your facility, give us a call and we can help you set a scope and select a team of experts to address the problems.

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Caroline Conlon

First Friday Art Opening – Caroline Conlon – Connecting the Dots

Caroline Conlon

August 3, 2018, 5pm – 8pm

141 W. Bruce St. Suite 201,

Harrisonburg, VA

Facebook Info

Each month we host a new artist in our building’s 2nd floor gallery at the Chesapeake Western Depot at 141 W. Bruce St. (second floor entrance is on Chesapeake). Artwork will remain on exhibit through the month. Come view the show and take a tour of the Depot! We will have food and drink available!


Caroline Conlon has been living in the Shenandoah Valley area for the last decade. In association with her recent graduation earning an Advanced Studies Diploma from Wilson Memorial High School, she also excelled at Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School in the two-year Arts & Humanities program where she received the Art Achievement Award for most fully embodying the subject in her endeavors. Caroline is a multimedia, abstract artist who uses mainly acrylics, watercolors, liquid inks, and pens to create her art. Inspired by the unpredictable shapes and patterns of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Caroline’s process involves the spontaneous application of materials followed by a more careful and deliberate approach to unify and finish. She finds art to be a comfort and stress relief as it allows her to express herself in a productive, beautiful fashion.


Connecting the Dots by Caroline Conlon is a collection of expressive, abstract work ranging from 2016-2018 which attempts to capture and document the process of embracing the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of splattering, pouring, flicking, and smushing. Whether it be utilizing traditional media in a non-traditional fashion or the creation of random patterns and working to unify them, Caroline works outside the box to not only archive but build upon these images as she reacts to them. The art combines the harsh and erratic with the soft and delicate. Brightly colored and vibrant, this show is bold and immersive for the viewer as they observe this interesting technique.


Mixed-Media including but not limited to acrylic, micron pen, graphite, ink, spray paint, and watercolor.

Conlon’s mixed-media work enhances the Chesapeake Western Depot’s lineup of previous First Friday artists, which most recently displayed works with photography, watercolor, ink, and gouache.

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Kim Scott

Valley Business Keynote 2018 – Are you radically candid?

I make mistakes daily. It is simply part of being human. I desire personal growth as a father, architect, boss, and well as a human. There are many things I could work on each day for sure. However, one of the things I am really good at is giving my opinion and being candid. I know this is not always seen as a positive in our society, which often likes to beat around the bush. It is also not always delivered by me in a way that it can be used for positive change. I do think being candid is very valuable for our society today. We have been told that we cannot like those people we don’t agree with. We have been told not to talk about important issues because it might end up putting a label on us that is not accurate. I have often used the example in my life of a relationship that I have with a leader in our community. He and I don’t share alignment in our political beliefs. However, I respect and care about him personally. I know he is a good man and I can learn from him. So we can have an open conversation about issues we don’t agree on and still respect each other. We can both walk away after being candid and still respect each other. We have a radically candid relationship. I don’t do this as well with my employees. I don’t ask for their open criticism enough so that I can grow as a leader. I don’t give critical feedback enough so my employees can grow. I have been waiting for this talk – VBK 2018 – to happen in our community for a long time. I think we need more open and honest conversation to happen for a healthier future in this community. I believe there is untapped potential in both leaders and employees in this community that radically candid conversations / feedback / praise / criticism can help prosper.  I am really looking forward to VBK 2018 and the impact this talk is going to have on the Valley.

Valley Business Keynote

Valley Business Keynote 2018

Valley Business Keynote is upon us and this one is going to be amazing. Our opening speaker Dave Urso has been teaching and developing leaders for 18 years. His energetic and interactive approach will captivate you and bring you into his conversation. He opens you up through his delivery method and may challenge some of your beliefs through his value proposition. He is candid in his delivery and compassionate in his support of your success. I don’t know Dave well, yet, but I do know he wants us all to find our potential and to achieve great things. 

dave urso

Kim Scott – Radically Candid Keynote

Our keynote speaker this year, Kim Scott, advocates for Radical Candor. This leadership approach, in my opinion, is often lacking in our beat around the bush culture. Kim advocates for leaders to “care personally” and to “challenge directly.” According to the book, this should not just be a one way street. The leader should also ask for and receive praise and criticism from those they lead. In other words, a good leader opens up a dialog for their improvement to happen as well as their team to grow. She sees potential in team members helping each other not just with praise, but also lessons learned and direct and honest criticism of each other.  This only works if you have built a team that cares for one another personally. The concept is not complicated, but as a manager, incredibly difficult to achieve. You have to get to the point, quit beating around the bush, and be CANDID.

radical candor

kim scott

I hope to see you at VBK 2018 on July 26th. If you don’t already have a ticket, be sure to reach out to our sponsors to see if they have one to spare. We are SOLD OUT. If you cannot make it there in person, we have a partnership with WHSV and they are going to rebroadcast the talk in the near future.

Kim Scott


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market street

What makes a city welcoming, inviting, unique?

My favorite city I have ever visited is Charleston, South Carolina. There are gardens, beautiful architecture, interesting stories (some of them true) about the history of the town, custom ironwork, open air markets, and incredible food.

Charleston City Market Charleston City Market Charleston South Carolina

I have visited Charleston many times, but have never lived there. My view of the city is from the perspective of a tourist. It caters to those coming for a few days and provides a welcoming atmosphere to give you reason to come back. The city has a soul and you see it in the streets, homes, and people.

Court Square

So what makes a city welcoming, inviting, unique? Every city has a history to tell, but most don’t tell it. Every city has a soul, but most don’t celebrate it. What does it take to bring a city to life for residents and visitors?

market street

As I was walking downtown last night we took a detour and went up market street from court square. I don’t usually walk this sidewalk and I was struck by the lack of welcoming feel this car centered street exudes for a pedestrian. There is a variety of little unique shops on this street, but nothing holding the street together to show its soul. Is there a strategy to bring life to the sidewalk on this one block stretch that could be added? Is there a way to celebrate the diversity of shops while allowing the car centered culture to continue? How do we honor the oldest photography shop in downtown Harrisonburg?

Picture taken by Christa Gitchell of the sign rehab for her shop.

Downtown Harrisonburg has a rich food culture, exhibits historical markers around Court Square, and boasts an open air farmer’s market. It has also been the Gaines Group’s home since 2009. So what can we add that would raise the level of welcomeness to our friendly city even more? How can we tie our history and community together to show our soul? Is it street art, vegetation, or something else? Should we celebrate our local universities or the music culture? Could it be as simple as adding a design guide for crosswalks and encourage gathering spaces? How can we build pride of place and reduce the car centered design elements?

What elements have you seen in cities that tie together and build pride of place? What would you like to see downtown that tells the history of place and builds a welcoming culture to those living here, as well as those just visiting for just a few days? How can we make Harrisonburg a truly friendly city? In your words, what makes a city welcoming, inviting, unique?


Natural Chimney's State Park

Gaines Group SWAG: Send us your selfies!

Want to show off your Gaines Group SWAG? Send us a selfie with your Gaines Group SWAG or our SWAG in a cool location to add to our website. We want to know where our logo has traveled.

To see other photos that have been sent in to us, check out “Oh, the Places We Go!

The Gaines Group takes pride in investing in others by helping them travel the world and become leaders in their community. See the links below to learn more about where the Gaines Group has visited!

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Robie House”

Blue Ridge Area Food Bank

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Oak Island Natural Chimney's State Park Smith Mountain Lake

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rotten wood wall

Little Things to Make Your Home Better

Sometimes the little things in our homes aren’t designed at all. I have the opportunity on occasion to share my experiences with students from all levels – Kindergarten to Graduate Students. Recently, I was invited to the Department of Energy to talk building science with graduate student interns spending their summer at the DOE. The room was full of determined and intelligent future leaders. Only one of them had a background in architecture / building science / sustainability. So how do I offer a presentation that is relevant to a group with no knowledge of my industry? I honestly was not sure. I started looking at how the industry has changed in the 20 years I have been in it. In January of 1999 there was almost no home technology being used outside of surround sound in a home theater. Now Google Assistant can call to make you a hair appointment and the salon does not know they are not talking to a human.

Alexa can adjust my thermostat, turn off lights, and turn on white noise in the background when I am going to bed.

These are huge jumps in technology and impact how we want our homes to operate. More important in an energy-efficiency discussion – we keep adding electric demand in our homes that we need to be able to supply. So in this technology driven age what does it mean to be sustainable? In a technology age where clients have access to touch screens to see their home performance, how do you provide solutions that meet their HGTV expectations? What is the balance between energy-efficient, indoor air quality, durability, and affordability? How do you define sustainability – green rating certification or energy usage or healthy?

I used specific projects that I have designed to talk about this idea of “green.” Is a home designed to be carbon neutral “green?”

Little things

It has green elements certainly, lots of them, but is it affordable? Does it need to be affordable to be sustainable?

What about a Dairy Queen that is more energy-efficient than other fast food restaurants?

Little things

It has solar PV on the roof, reduces water usage, includes day-lighting strategies, and has 100% LED lighting. It checks many of the boxes for a “green” building. Reducing operating costs adds to profit and success. So is it “green.”

Little things

Rotted wood wall

We then moved the conversation to things I find in building that are common issues in building science. For instance, a garage inside the envelope of your living space – meaning not detached has a huge impact on indoor air quality. A vapor barrier in a wall system in our mixed humid climate can destroy a building in under 30 years.

It is interesting to present to a young group that grew up with all this technology around them. They are not impressed with the newness of it all – they just want to know how it works and how to use it to future benefit. If you can now 3D print your Christmas toys for the kids, will Target survive? If you can use virtual reality to tour a historic home – will you still see it in person? If you want to live in a luxury home, can that be 3D printed by a robot and you use virtual reality to transform your home into the style you want at any given moment? Maybe that is jumping too far ahead, but the options exist. We are now today seeing homes printed. We are seeing robots replace jobs that people used to perform in construction with higher levels of accuracy. The world is changing quickly, with little things and big steps every day. However, building science remains a constant. We have to understand how all this technology being used in homes will impact our energy demand, our building operations, and quality of life. Building science is so often left out of residential design. We allow our homes to waste energy that we have to pay for monthly. We are ok with poor indoor air quality because we have medicine to make us well again. We don’t mind using too much water because we have plenty. This is not sustainable. There are little things that make your home better – please do them. I hope that message resonated with the students and with my readers.

Here are some little things to make your home better:

Air sealing

Crawl Space

Attic Insulation



Electrical Outlets


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Elmur Burruss Architect

Elmer Burruss – Gaines Group Heritage

I have been with Gaines Group Architects since January of 1999, almost 20 years with a brief break to attend grad school from late 01 – o3. I understand that is rare today as many designers like to jump around from firm to firm. However, that does not always happen here at our firm and I think it is because of our focus on our firm as a family. We have over 100 years of combined experience, maybe we are hitting an even higher mark these days, but as I get older I want to think about that less. We have built a team that focuses on serving our community through design, but also through community service. This tradition runs deep, well before my 20 years started. This approach is Ray’s vision for the firm – to design buildings that benefit the community, last a long time, and function well. However, Ray learned this approach from someone as well. His Grandfather, Elmer Burruss, was also an architect in Charlottesville. While I never had the pleasure of meeting him, just looking at a list of his projects will tell you that he also valued community.

Elmer Burruss practiced architecture in Charlottesville from the mid-1930s until the mid-1970s after declining an opportunity to play professional baseball.  In addition to many custom residences, his work included the Albemarle County Clerk’s Office, the Monticello Dairy, Hill & Wood Funeral Home, and the Frank Ix, Inc. Complex.

Elmur Burruss Architect

During that time, he also founded and operated numerous construction related businesses in the Charlottesville area.

Whether is was Mr. Burruss or Mr. Gaines that got us here, I am so proud of the legacy our firm is leaving. Thanks to Ray for his leadership and passion for building a better community. To learn more about our efforts, visit

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Natural Chimney Stage

Natural Chimney Stage at Red Wing Roots Music Festival

The Natural Chimney Stage construction is done. I went to see the finished project this past weekend and took some amazing pictures (not my skills, but the site is amazing). Venture Builders and Herr & Co. and many of their friends were able to make this project happen with an unrealistic build schedule. They all proved to be the right team for the right project. Blue Ridge Timberwrights came through to execute our vision for the stage’s aesthetic, and the fresh new wood smells so good. It could not have been done without them. I am so looking forward to seeing bands use this structure at Red Wing Roots Music Festival this year.

Past post about the Natural Chimney Stage here.

Natural Chimney Stage Natural Chimney Stage Natural Chimney Stage Natural Chimney Stage Natural Chimney Stage Natural Chimney Stage Natural Chimney Stage

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