Field Guide to Renovations: Develop a Ballpark Budget

Develop an Initial Budget

Audio-Video-Lighting systems are expensive. There is just no getting around it. Even small systems can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, while large systems for rooms seating 2,000-3,000+ can easily run into the millions. 

One of the biggest mistakes I see churches making when embarking on a remodel or building project is not setting realistic budgets. I think this is due to a general lack of understanding of what the technology costs, and how many little—and often expensive—pieces need to be added to make everything work. As a quick example, in our little project to install a new PA, add a video wall, some lobby TVs and move our tech booth, I have to order over $1,300 in cable connectors alone! 

So many churches go into a building project with what I call the Best Buy budget. Someone from the church (usually not the tech guy) wandered through Best Buy and saw some amplifiers, TVs and speakers and came up with a “budget.” Or perhaps they just pull a number out of the air. Most times, those are woefully inadequate to do a good job, and everyone will be frustrated by the results.

Count the Cost

Luke 14:28 reminds us, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” We might get bids from builders, electricians, architects for the “big” pieces of the job, but fail to take into account the AVL. Perhaps the architect will add a standard percentage of the job for AVL, which may or may not be enough (it’s probably not).

Now, I understand the problem. Most pastors, and probably most tech guys, don’t spend their days looking at spec and price sheets for all manner of AVL gear. And most have no idea how much stuff it takes to make an entire system work. This is where having a relationship with an integrator comes in. 

It’s All About Relationships

Remember how I’m always talking about building relationships? Having an integrator or dealer that you work with regularly is invaluable when it comes to working up a budget. Because they spend their days designing, pricing and installing systems in churches, they can give you a rough idea of how much it will cost. 

Now, it’s important that I take a moment and remind you of something here. Integrators are in business to make a profit. If we expect to get good service, we need good integrators to stay in business. They are worth their time, and they should be paid for it. 

Don’t go to an integrator and ask them to design and cost out a system, the parcel out the buying of the gear to the cheapest vendor you can find online. In fact, the good integrators won’t even do a design until they’re under contract to do the job. And that’s a great business model. They may be able to give you a ballpark budget off the top of their heads for free, but if you want detailed analysis and design, expect to pay for it. 

Getting Into the Ballpark

As you start a project, it is important to have a ballpark idea of the cost for the AVL system. You can arrive at this a few different ways. The way I usually do it is to start by talking with my integrator and get rough numbers for big items—speaker systems, video walls, consoles, lighting rigs, etc. Then, I’ll spend a little time online getting pricing ideas for smaller items. I add in some padding for labor (which is usually a lot more than you think it is), cables, connectors, and glue (pieces that connect one big item to another). Finally, I’ll add 10-25% depending on the size of the job. 

That should get you in the ballpark. Start with that number to present to leadership. It’s always better to go in a little high because it will likely be cut down. If you go in too high, you’ll get shot down, but if you go in too low, you’ll get hung. To hedge my bets, I prefer to give a range. It’s easier to go a little over if your rough range is $150,000-175,000. You can probably get $185K if you need it. But if you say $130, you’ll never get $180 if you need it. 

Alternately, you can ask your integrator to give you a ballpark range. Just be sure to tell them all you are trying to do. Telling them you need a new PA and some projectors for the sanctuary is different one thing. Adding in full AVL in three smaller kids rooms, plus a lobby and overflow room is another. And be sure to tell leadership they can’t hold the integrator to the ballpark budget until a site visit has been completed and a full design worked up. This is just an idea here.

Hopefully that helps you get started. Next time, we’ll talk more about design.

Roland

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