For months, motorists passing St. Therese Catholic Church on Brawley School Road have watched the church’s new sanctuary gradually rise from the ground. While the building is still about three months from completion, the church has made significant progress since February, adding a unique and cost-saving cooling system to the sanctuary.

“Essentially, we have three big freezers that are 55,000 pounds each,” said James Boggs, project superintendent, explaining the Trane chiller system. “They fill up with water and freeze, turning to ice overnight in the off-peak hours. During the peak times, when the system is on, the chilled water goes into the air handler and is distributed as cool air into the building.”

Ben Wilhelm, SouthEast Region President of Shiel Sexton (St. Therese’s General Contractor) said that the ice cooling system helped to eliminate cost, space and equipment that would have been needed for a more traditional cooling unit.

“Something like this is great for a church, which only needs to cool off their sanctuary at certain peak times rather than all day,” said Wilhelm. “You leave it off after the peak times and the ice restores itself during the night when it’s not in use.”

He added that “this is really innovative for a church facility” and the chillers created a six-figure saving for the church, as it eliminated the need for a basement and typical mechanical room for a traditional cooling system.

Boggs said that the church would also save money in the long run as Duke Energy gives credits for the chillers since they are considered “energy-efficient and instrumental technology.”

In addition to the cooling system, Wilhelm noted that the church’s high-tech upgrade with extensive audio-video equipment and LED lighting, allowing the church to coordinate lights and sound for future programs.

The church’s sanctuary upgrade will not only mean new technology but a spacious 2,200 square-foot sanctuary that will seat about 1,160 parishioners. St. Therese’s former sanctuary could only hold about 300 and had consistent overflow.

Aesthetically, the sanctuary will be highlighted with exposed wood and a tongue-and-groove ceiling. Wilhelm said the interior will have lots of windows, allowing for plenty of natural light.

“It’s going to have a natural feel, but still seem modern,” he said.

One of the sanctuary’s more interesting features will be a large steel support beam that Senior Project Manager Bill Cuddeback encouraged church members to sign at an event designed to get the congregation more involved in the project. After it was signed, it was hoisted into position.

A cross mounted to the roof will, when finished, raise the height of the building to 102 feet. Overall, the project will cost $5.8 million when it wraps up at the end of February. The sanctuary is anticipated to open in mid to late March.

“We expect it will be a great addition to the parish and a good gathering space,” said Boggs.